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The Invincible-class Battleship; one of the first arsenal ships.

An arsenal ship is a warship design that functions as a dedicated anti-ship missile platform intended to fire at least five thousand missiles via pods deployed from its stern. They can be classified as either Battleships or Battlecruisers. They are often informally referred to as "Dreadnoughts".


Arsenal ship pod storage

Arsenal ship pod storage and deployment.

The first arsenal ships showcased various radical design changes that departed dramatically from orthodox UNSC warship design. Though they appear to be conventional ships from the outside, the most striking part of an arsenal ship's design is the hollow core that runs for at least thirty percent of the ship's total length, capable of carrying hundreds of missile pods, resulting in a total missile load going into the thousands. Pods are grouped together in circular five-pod "carousel" formations, that during combat, are flushed out of the ship through a stern-mounted bay door on an extendable boom supporting the carousels. When one pod had exhausted all its missiles, the carousel would spin on the boom and bring another pod in line with the target. This would continue until the carousel had exhausted all its pods, and then it would be discarded off the end of the boom.

During combat, arsenal ships present their broadsides to the enemy in order to fire the greatest number of missiles at the target at once. However, this massive enhancement of the ships' first strike capabilities comes at a cost, as the hollow-core design reduces the ship's hull strength compared to similarly-sized conventional warships, and the need to mount doors through which to flush the pods forces designers to sacrifice aft chase weapons and defences, as well as requiring a different engine layout. Furthermore, arsenal ships are not equipped with Magnetic Accelerator Cannons, thus denying them the one-hit-kill power of conventional ships, although their sheer number of missiles, their increased range and ability to home in on targets more than offset this disadvantage.

As well as their long-ranged missile armament, arsenal ships also carry short-range Plasma Turrets, typically only used if the main armament has been exhausted. They also carry astoundingly heavy defences for their size, in the form of metres-thick armour, backed up by under-armour layers of ice used as engine reaction mass and Solid Light Barrier generators, as well as hundreds of point-defence guns and thousands of countermissiles.


The first arsenal ships

First conceived in 2545, the arsenal ship represented a major departure from the orthodox UNSC warship design that had held sway for nearly fifty years. Most of the design changes were influenced by the horrific casualties conventionally-built warships had already suffered against the Covenant. The first two classes, the Invincible-class Battleship and the Retribution-class Battlecruiser, were developed at the Reyes-McLees Shipyards in orbit of Mars.

While most Admirals were supportive of some design changes such as the change in location of fuel tanks, the removal of the MAC gun in favour of missiles had many up in arms over the change: It seemed obvious that the removal of the MAC gun would deny a warship the only weapon the UNSC had that was powerful enough to beat down Covenant shields, and it had been proven time and again on the battlefield that Archer Missiles were next to useless against shielded ships. Thus, more and more resources were diverted away from the construction of arsenal ships in favour of building more traditional ships, and eventually all construction was stopped indefinitely.

However, the demonstration of the effectiveness of the shield-breaching RIM-442 Anubis EMP missile at the Battle of Minorca led a few Admirals to believe that there could be some virtue in the "missile school", and after a great deal of backroom arguing, construction of the ships resumed, on the understanding that each missile pod would contain one Anubis missile that would breach the target's shields, while at the same time guiding the Archer Missiles in.

However, the Slipspace drives on each ship had barely been completed before the Battle of Earth began in late 2552. Despite being driven off by Earth's orbital defence grid, the surviving CCS-class Battlecruisers of Regret's fleet closed in on the Martian shipyards and fired a parting salvo of plasma before retreating into Slipspace. The two ships were undamaged, but the yards were too damaged to continue their construction, and so they were moved to the shipyards at Alpha Centauri to continue their refitting. This proved to be a sensible decision, as the Martian yards were one of the Covenant's first targets when Truth's fleet a few weeks later.

Construction of the ships slowed yet again after the war's end as the UNSC desperately rebuilt its fleet. The arsenal ships were given lower priority as lighter frigates and destroyers equipped with the latest missiles were put into service in the War of Vengeance and proved themselves to be superior combatants than their war-era cousins.

However, as the UNSC and the Sangheili Armed Forces planned Operation: FURY - a strike on strategic Blood Covenant targets in reprisal for Terrence Hood's assassination, they recognised the need for a heavily armed and armoured ship to carry out the deed, given the vast number of Blood Covenant warships in the first target system, Exultant Piety. The first two arsenal ships, Invincible and Retribution, were rapidly completed, and after promising trials and shakedown cruises, the two were sent into the Exultant Piety system.

The Battle of Exultant Piety was Invincible and Retribution's baptism by fire, and they performed superbly. Protected by a screen of frigates and destroyers, but still outnumbered six to one, both ships utterly destroyed a combined Jiralhanae and Kig-yar fleet in orbit of the planet with no casualties. The war-era Covenant tactic of trying to shoot down the Anubis EMP missile before it reached deployment range was rendered useless by the fact that every missile now carried an EMP generator. Invincible suffered severe hull damage from Covenant plasma, but the ice layer performed its job well and there were no crew deaths.

The two vessels' actions prompted the construction of dozens of new arsenal ships, and they continued to serve the UNSC Navy well during the subjugation Blood Covenant at the Battles of Undefeated Glory, Wondrous Enlightenment, and Glorious Fraternity and Operation: LAMENTATION. Invincible's firepower demonstration during Operation: LAMENTATION was perhaps the only reason that the New Covenant did not attack the UNSC/Sangheili alliance fleet in the system during the Battle of Expansive Judgement and commit the alliance to a war it could not win.

The "Superdreadnoughts"

The second block of ships developed fixed numerous design problems encountered during Operation: FURY, which included a re-design of the missile deployment system that allowed them to fire missiles off-bore. They were also equipped with the new FTL PALANTIR-4 targeting system. A new class of ships, the King Arthur-class Battleship, was also developed as part of a project by the UNSC Navy's Bureau of Ships. This was based on the assumption that with the New Covenant's discovery of the UNSC's new technological prowess, a war would soon break out if a radical faction came to power. Based on observations of the fleet at Expansive Judgement, the UNSC Navy concluded that with the New Covenant's superior weapon range, point defence, and electronic warfare compared to the Blood Covenant, the number of missiles an arsenal ship could fire, as well as their range, would be an important deciding factor in any future conflict. Unlike the Invincibles, the King Arthurs mounted broadside missile pods as well as their internally-deployed pods, capable of off-bore firing. Coupled with an increased magazine space, the ships of the class would have a two-hour endurance at maximum missile fire rate.

However, the main advantage of the King Arthurs over their predecessors was their much larger internal storage capability for missile pods, thanks to advances which resulted in reduced sizes for its internal systems and allow the class designers to increase the length of the hollow core to up to sixty percent of the ship's total length. In effect, this allowed the King Arthur-class vessels to carry up to two thousand missile pods, firing the new four-stage Multi-Stage Missiles. All these factors resulted in the new ship class being nicknamed the "Superdreadnought" for its massive firepower and armour.

However, construction was stopped indefinitely on all warships apart from those nearest to completion with the election of Jerome Smithson in 2562. With the outbreak of the Second Great War with the Governors of Contrition in 2565, the New Covenant's attack on Rho Coronae Borealis led the UNSC picket commander to destroy the shipyard rather than risk its capture by the enemy, an action which resulted in the destruction of one hundred and three unfinished King Arthur-class Battleships. This disaster resulted in the fall of the Smithson Government, and construction resumed with arsenal ships being a top priority. However, at the onset of the war, only sixty King Arthur-class ships were ready, with fifteen more nearing completion in the Sol System from construction previously suspended by the Smithson government, and more ships laid down as part of the emergency war construction program, ships which would not be finished until 2568 at the earliest. At this time, the Unggoy Star Empire began the construction of their own "Superdreadnought", the Yayap-class Superdreadnought. Six of these and twelve King Arthur-class Battleships formed the core of the allied Task Force Striker during the United Powers' counteroffensive in 2568.

With the conclusion of the Second Great War, the UNSC began the construction of even more arsenal ships, despite the expectation of a post-war build-down. As a result, the Unggoy Star Empire began its own arsenal ship construction program. Along with the construction of more and more NOVA weapons, this dreadnought arms race has become one of the key features of the UNSC-USE Cold War.

Arsenal ship classes

First Generation

Second Generation

Third Generation

See also