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Considered a joke by practically all commanding officers, often using them as cannon fodder. At 1.17 kilometers in length and one-third the tonnage of the succeeding Marathon-class cruisers, the Halcyons were the smallest vessels to be designated as cruisers. Compared to later ships the original Halcyons were sorely underpowered and under gunned; their Mark II fusion engines provided but a tenth of the output of modern reactors, and their armament consisted of a mere six Archer Missile pods, and a single MAC gun.
As the ship was designed and manufactured well before the Human-Covenant War, it was probably meant to suppress possible rebellions on outer colonies which might have had reasonable ground militia but scarce planetary defenses, making the ship ideal to take out small defending frigates or fighters and capable of landing an able ground force to restore order on the planet. The most noteworthy design feature was a series of internal cross bracings and honeycombs that made the ships surprisingly resistant to battle damage; ships of the class were able to remain operational despite sustaining breaches to all compartments and losing 90% of their armor. As seen in Halo: Combat Evolved, this superstructure made the ship capable of crash-landing relatively safely on a planet, though it would probably never fly again.
When the Human-Covenant War erupted in 2525 a number of Halcyons were reactivated from storage and extensively refitted with additional Titanium-A armor and dozens more Archer Missile pods. One such ship, the Pillar of Autumn, demonstrated the ability to launch over 1000 missiles at once. Some were even outfitted with a prototypical powerplant, 3 engine cores would be used. Two auxillary cores would "super charge" the main core when needed, one such example is the Pillar of Autumn where the engines were cooled with a "laser induced slurry of ions chilled to near absolute zero".
Corridors on the Halcyon-class were segmented by several retractable containment bulkheads. In the event of an emergency these bulkheads could be closed and affected sections sealed from the remainder of the ship. A potential application of this was during a hostile boarding action, whereas the atmosphere in the sealed sections could be vented via commands from the bridge, asphyxiating enemy troops.
Armories were located throughout the ship, holding a selection of small arms and their requisite ammunition. Eight docking bays allowed a number of Pelican dropships, Longsword Interceptors, Warthogs and Scorpion Tanks to be carried. It is unknown how many auxiliary craft and vehicles a Halcyon can embark. The Pillar of Autumn, depending on the in-game cutscenes, missions, and novels, was shown to carry at least: twelve Longswords, seven Pelicans, four Scorpions, and perhaps in excess of forty Warthogs. The Warthog count is partially based on the text of Halo: The Flood, pages 136-138. The docking bays shown in the cutscenes each revealed berths for sixteen Pelicans each as well.
A number of service corridors ran the length of the ship. Although normally restricted to personnel, they could be accessed by lifts in main engineering or connecting passageways from the docking bays. If necessary these expansive corridors could permit passage to Warthogs and some sections were large enough to accept Pelicans. The corridors served a secondary purpose of lessening the ship's considerable mass, thereby increasing acceleration.
Halcyons usually embarked a compliment of regular Marines, sometimes augmented by an ODST battalion. It has been speculated that a normal crew numbered 1200, including 400 naval personnel and 800 soldiers.