June 24th, 2008

All About The Cerberus

Chris Schultz posted some excellent questions on yesterday’s feature story on the Cerberus, which I began to dutifully address. But as I was writing the reply – and as it got longer and longer – I realized the post had crossed over from message to article.

Rather than post some massive reply on that article string, I’m breaking out what turned into a pretty cool Q&A here. If you folks have additional questions pertaining to the Cerberus’ design or specs, post them here and I’ll do my best to answer.

I’ve also had a request to share the Firefly development timeline. I know some of the key dates are already covered in the Blueprints Reference Pack. But, if you like, I can dust off the complete timeline and post it here, as well.

CS: Where is the fire control center, does it have one?

AG: Yes. Fire control is at the back of the bridge. All of the guns can also be fired manually, if necessary.

CS: How much ammo did they carry?

AG: It depended on how she was configured. In the renderings you see here, she would sport a minimum complement and maximum loadout. She uses five different types of loads:

  • Depleted uranium (rail gun)
  • Plasma loads (packet plasma cannon)
  • 25mm autocannon loads (forward and side anti-personnel/anti-aircraft guns – think chain gun)
  • 155mm AGS cannons (two – located under the neck) which can fire either –
    • Explosive, long-range shells or
    • Short-range incendiary shells

We haven’t calculated exact loadouts for each mode, but I think it’s safe to assume that in this configuration she’d favor ammo over personnel, allowing her to handle long patrols. If she was being used for troop transport, the cargo module on the bottom would be replaced with one that could hold a lot of marines and would probably replace the AGS cannons with autocannons for suppression fire. Autocannon loads take a lot less space than a 155mm shells.

CS: How many crew did she need?

AG: She had a minimum complement of six:

  • Bridge crew –
    • Pilot
    • Co-pilot/navigator
    • Fire control specialist
  • Engineering –
    • Chief engineer
    • Weapons specialist
  • Other –
    • Medic/cook

CS: Did she carry a Spec Ops team, for ground missions?

AG: Yes, when a mission required it. However, gunboat jockeys were a dime a dozen among the Independents – anyone who could fly a cargo hauler between colonies could pilot a Firefly. But special ops personnel were a rare asset. It wasn’t unusual, though, to have a “bonus” crewman with some hand-to-hand and maybe even limited special tactics training.

CS: How is the protection from the rear? That seems like the weakest spot.

AG: She’s fairly heavily armored, even on the reactor (when I post higher res images you’ll be able to see the ablative armor coating). But, yes, it’s true, with minimal gun coverage to the rear, this was definitely the gunboat’s weak point.

The Cerberus depended on superior maneuverability to keep her, um, assets out of the fire. In the early parts of the war, the Firefly-based gunboats were a major problem for the Alliance, the Alliance military relied on overwhelming firepower to win their battles. But it doesn’t matter how advanced your tech is or how powerful your guns are if you can’t hit your target.

To respond to this, the Alliance developed small, fast attack craft (think PT boat) that could outmaneuver and target a Firefly gunboat with armor-piercing shells, while staying out of the firing arc of the gunboat’s anti-spacecraft weapons.  These gunboat killers were first deployed in the Battle of Sturges, and lead to the Alliance’s first truly decisive victory over the Independents. The destruction of the Firefly Ship Works on Hera, which was the first of many skirmishes in Serenity Valley, pretty much ended the Series 3′s use as a military asset.

CS: How much was interchangeable with a regular series 3 firefly?

AG: About 70 percent of parts were the same. Main differences were weapons, the main engines (smaller, lower profile and much higher output), and some of the refeeding mechanisms on the reactor that allowed it to support the incredibly high energy needs when the ship was maneuvering and firing her guns.

CS: Are you going to have some action shots?

AG: Yes! Sean’s probably going to kill me for saying this, but we’re even looking at creating a special effects sequence (a little movie) of the Cerberus in action.

CS: Did Mal and Zoe ever get transported by one?

AG: Hm. Sounds like a good crossover story for fanfic, eh?

CS: Does the lack of solar panels affect her performance?

AG: Don’t think so. To be honest, we’re not entirely sure what the function of those solar panels are, except to make Serenity look funky. But, assuming they have some power-generating usage, we’re sure the higher-output reactor would more than make up for it.

CS: What is her speed, range, and maneuverability compared to a regular series 3 firefly?

AG: She is both significantly faster and more maneuverable than Serenity,  as she was the most agile ship in service up until the Alliance Fast Attack boats were deployed.  However, she traded that greater acceleration and nimbleness for range, which was about half what Serenity is capable of.


24 Responses to “All About The Cerberus”

  1. How much of the quarters/dorms were left, and what would be the maximum crew?

  2. Chris Schultz says:

    Wow. Thanks! Uh, I have more questions.

    How many Gunboats did the independents have? What kind of countermeasures did the gunboats have?

    I would like to see the development time line.

    Do you have a time line for the Unification War?

    Thanks again.

  3. William Pace says:

    Yes, but does she have a bamboo steamer lamp…?

    When you get a chance, ask Tim Earls about Firefly production on Hera. I would love to know how many of the series three came off the production line and saw action in the war. It also wouldn’t hurt to get a ball park figure of how many survived to become transport ships afterwards.

  4. admin says:

    Micheal – The rear two cabins were combined on each side into submarine-style dorms, stacking bunks on three of the four walls. The front two cabins where reserved for officers/pilots. So, long-term crew capacity was up to 18 enlisted and four officers. With the troop carrier module installed, up to four platoons (~200 troops) could be moved over short hauls (max 48 hours); the troop module wasn’t really appropriate for extended use.

  5. admin says:

    Chris –

    How many Gunboats did the independents have?

    Quite a few – they were flexible, relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain. However, they weren’t always Fireflies – strapped for resources, the Independents often retrofitted civilian vehicles for military service. In terms of Firefly gunboats, a little over 1,000 were put into service during the course of the war.

    What kind of countermeasures did the gunboats have?

    ECM, ECCM and chaff were standard. Some boats also opted out of guided missiles in favor of wild weasels, although more often homemade Cry Babies were employed (gives you an idea where Mal may have learned that trick). But a gunboat’s best defense was her low energy signature and stealth armor.

    I would like to see the development time line.

    Workin’ on cleaning it up and waiting to double-check some dates with Tim.

    Do you have a time line for the Unification War?

    Not beyond the beginning, end, and Serenity Valley. We don’t even have a specific date for The Battle of Sturges, beyond it was toward the end of the war, but before Serenity Valley.

  6. Jim in St. Louis says:

    So Firefly’s were designed and manufactured by the Allied Spacecraft Corporation, A Subsidiary Of Blue Sun Corp.. We know Blue Sun is a corporation with tight government oversight and control. So who were the gunboats designed for? The Alliance or the Independents? Or was the gunboat mod an option by one of the outsourced outfitters? It doesn’t seem like Blue Sun would allow such a weapons system to be sold to the general public.


  7. admin says:

    Heya Jim – Actually, ASC was not yet a subsidiary of Blue Sun when the gunboats were built; ASC was acquired after the war (actually, right after – but that’s another story). However, while the basic engineering and airframe manufacturing of the Firefly was done by ASC, outfitting was done by the Firefly Ship Works on Hera. So, ASC, being a profit-motivated organization and not, in reality, violating any laws (after all, military-grade hardware was added *after* the airframes arrived on Hera), continued to sell Fireflies to our friends at the FFSW on Hera right up until the plant was destroyed in the war.

  8. William Pace says:

    When you opened Firefly Ship Works you opened the floodgate for so many fan questions. Our veracity is now equal to the gaping vacuum left by the absence of the show. I would ask more at this time, but everyone here is getting them in ahead of me.

    Hyenas to the blood.

  9. admin says:

    William – questions are never a problem. Won’t always have the answers, and what answer we have will rarely be as complete as we wish they were. But will always do our best to answer them.

    Just doin’ good works.

  10. William Pace says:

    When you were growing up, did you ever think you’d be a budding lexicographer of a world wide worshipped science fiction show?

  11. admin says:

    Not *exactly*. But, after I figured out it was easier to write about astronauts than become one, it was sort of inevitable…

  12. Jim in St. Louis says:

    What great (future) history! This could all be a Visual Companion-Vol. 3.


  13. Akin says:

    I can so picture this thing coming low over the hills towards a sleepy Alliance camp, loudspeakers blaring the “Ride of the Valkyries”…

  14. Sean Kennedy says:

    Visual Companion-Vol. 3? Hmmmm…. nice idea. My Serenity Renders were in Volume 2. (page 36) :D

    No….Sean’s not going to kill you, Andy. I’m working on a special effects sequence of the Cerberus in action. it’s still in it’s infancy. Still got a lot of work to do…texturing all those alliance and independence ships…and of course all the explosions.

  15. admin says:

    Akin – Or Night on Bald Mountain? Just so we’re not too derivative.

    Sean – Whew! And thanks for the not murdering thing ;-) Oh, and – yeah!!

    BTW, we = Sean. Shoulda said that in the article :-D

  16. Akin says:

    Hurm… yeah, “Night on Bald Mountain” would work, too… :-)

  17. pennausamike says:

    The solar panels on Mal’s ship, Serenity, may be similar in function to the jury-rigging in the engine compartment that Kaylee used to overcome the attack of the “terrifying space monkeys”.

    Far as relying on the comics for canon, hmmmm, I dunno.
    I’m personally conflicted because I find the comics to be a poor substitute for the show. (There are flashes of inspiration from the ‘verse, but they overall aren’t channeling the excellence of the Firefly series.)
    On the other hand, Joss making the decision to bring back Dobson, who got SHOT IN THE HEAD with a pistol that dropped a horse, breathes life into the whole “Wash Lives” scenario. And since I think Wash’s death derails the whole franchise…

    I think the QMx poster “Londinum/ Londinium” confusion points to just how un-set canon is in the ‘verse. Shoot, there isn’t even logic in the application of patches. The patches were originally intended to denote rank and have the triangle point down and the star upright.
    But in the rush of television production work,
    a seamstress sewed the patch on “upside-down”.
    The 76th and a number of fans follow “canon” from the “Serenity” TV pilot and “The Message” which showed the patch on Mal’s arm the way the seamstress messed up.
    But also seen in the “Serenity” pilot is the orientation of the rank authorization info on the back, as the designer intended it.

    The design intention was to have Alliance triangles point up; Independents’ triangles point down.
    And, believe it or not, one of the Alliance patches got put on reversed on one of the Alliance motocross troopers’ uniforms!
    The Propstore of London also displayed one of the throat patches from the movie “Serenity” upside down, but that REALLY doesn’t count.

    To me, the original designers’ intentions (both Shawna and Geoff)
    are more “canon” and logical than a rushed line production foul-up.

    I know this seems like nit-picking, but adherence to details like these are the things that often lend credibility to a fictional world.
    How believable would a World War Two movie be if some of the American sergeants stripes pointed one way, some the other, the German swastikas were backwards and some, but not all, of the deaths heads were upside down?

    The creation of the expanded-’verse items is tricky business.
    I found the attempt on the QMx website to link the Moses Bros. Firearms Co. with Mal Reynold’s family to be too much of a stretch.
    I’m glad none of the paperwork that came with the stunt pistol alludes to it.

    The poster who wanted Tim Earls to comment on Firefly construction on Hera may be hoping for too much.
    Tim was involved in the creation of the hardware for Joss’ Firefly ‘verse, but I don’t think Joss himself planned in enough depth to give Tim the definitive answer to Hera’s role in the War.

    I’d love to see a forum with Joss Whedon and Tim Minear ACTIVELY participating that would allow the creators and fans to beat out an expanded ‘verse canon, so everyone could be building from the same information.

  18. JD "Homer" Hughes says:

    When I read that Cerberus was attached to 12th Cav, it led to thoughts of my own time as a Cav Scout. Then the mention of the possibility of a gunship carrying Specops teams made me think that it might be reasonable to assume that they carried and inserted DRT (Deep Recon Teams)pronounced “Dirt”. 2-3 Scouts, lightly armed, heavily provisioned (Water, food, radios), in well camouflaged hides, sort of a combat stakeout. Their mission is to observe and radio SALUTE (Size Activity Location Unit Time and Equipment) reports, call for indirect fire, and direct friendly forces on the battlefield. I picture nose art by Bawidamann ( http://www.bawidamann.com/home.html )similar to his “Ranger Girl”. A “DRTy Girl” reppeling from the silhoutte of a Firefly gunship wearing nothing but a desert camo Browncoat Duster, an assault rifle, and a radio.
    My only question. Is it possible that there might have been a tradition of naming Independent Gunships after Mythological Greek monsters. Great Work!

  19. admin says:

    JD – that’s some *excellent* intel you got there, and it all makes total sense to me. And, yes, insertion of DRT would certainly be one of the gunboat’s possible roles.

    And, yes, it is a tradition in the 12th Cavalry to name ships after mythological creatures, although that’s not strictly limited to Greek mythos. Other boats in the 12th (that we know of) include the Fenrir, Chimaera, Manticore, Banshee, Anubis, Tengu and Fenghuang.

  20. jonesy says:

    Can you enlarge the Cerberus under fire on this page. Not wanting to be naive but is this going to come out as a chart, book, etc when it’s all finished or possible being used in the Six-guns and Starships book that MWP is putting out later? Whatever way it’s put out I sure want a copy of it. Please make it affordable for us poor married people.

  21. Hawkehunt says:

    A related question, what does ISV actually stand for? I’ve looked all over and can’t find an answer.

  22. admin says:

    ISV stands for “Independents Space Vehicle”. Interestingly enough, that’s not what I originally suggested. I had it as “Independents Military Vehicle”, but Geoff Mandel changed it to “ISV”. I think he thought it was more consistent with how the Alliance designated their ships.

  23. Hawkehunt says:

    So I was close then… I thought it was probably either Independents Service Vessel or Independents Space Vessel – more or a Naval nonmenclature

  24. Corey says:

    Does the Cerberus have shuttles? I’m anxious to see this thing in action

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