Created By: AFP on February 27, 2011 Last Edited By: AFP on March 6, 2011
Troped

Sitting Duck

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Trope

Launching Soon

Londo Molari: Your ships are very impressive in the air, or in space, but at this moment, they are on the ground.

What do the Cool Ship, Cool Starship, and Cool Plane all have in common? They are at their most vulnerable when in docked in port or while parked on the ground. A savvy enemy can use the element of surprise to sucker punch an enemy, even a numerically or technically superior enemy, before they can bring their forces into play. Methods for this can range from Fireships to attack planes or a long range missile attack.

The Trope name comes from a hunting phrase referring to ducks sitting on the water, often considered to be off limits until they take flight. Due to its applicability, the phrase was adopted in the military aviation community to refer to airplanes that had not had a chance to take off, although of course very few pilots have a problem with destroying an enemy plane before it can get in the air.

Exploiting this trope is a favored tactic of the Combat Pragmatist.

Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • In Martian Successor Nadesico, the Jovian Lizards hit the Nadesico while it's landed to pick up survivors of the invasion of Mars, giving Yurika the Sadistic Choice of turning on the ships' Deflector Shields - crushing the refugees beneath it - or letting the attack destroy the Nadesico (likely killing most of the refugees when it crashed in flames). She chooses the former, but not without some angsting.

Film

Literature
  • Clive Cussler's The Mediterranean Caper. A World War I biplane strafes a U.S. Air Force base and destroys a number of F-105 Starfire jet fighters and C-133 Cargomasters while they're helpless on the ground.

Live-Action Television
  • Babylon 5: Londo's Crowning Moment of Awesome was when he invoked this trope on The Shadow base on Centauri Prime.
    • Earlier, Captain Sheridan attempted to invoke this trope on a Shadow Battlecrab on the Jovian moon of Ganymede, but arrived just in time to see the ship launch and destroy the facilities there.

Tabletop Games
  • Task Force Games
    • Several Star Fleet Battles scenarios involved ships being caught by surprise attacks while in orbit or docked to a space station. The scenario usually had rules for "powering up" ship systems so the ships could fight.
    • Starfire scenario "The Paurl Harbor Raid". Rigellian carriers smashed Khanate battleships "at anchor" in Paurl Harbor, an obvious Shout-Out to "Pearl Harbor".

Video Games
  • In Aero Fighters Assault, one of the bonus mission has you protecting your Airborne Aircraft Carrier from enemy attacks while it's refueling.
  • Secret Weapons Of The Luftwaffe
    • One hypothetical German mission is attacking an Allied bomber base in Britain and destroying the B-17's on the ground before they can take off.
    • Another mission involved taking off while your airbase was under attack and fighting off the enemy planes.
  • The first German campaign mission in Red Baron was being on the receiving end of one of these. You had to get your plane into the air while your airbase was being strafed by attacking Allied planes.

Real Life
  • The Japanese raids on Pearl Harbor and the Philippines, catching the American Pacific Fleet and the hundreds of planes based on Oahu flat-footed, is quite possibly the Trope Codifier. Although the Imperial Japanese Navy admittedly failed in their primary objective, the destruction of the American carriers, it was still a punishing blow for the unprepared American forces, and it would be six months before the Allies could finally regain the initiative and start pushing the Japanese back.
  • Operation Focus was the opening airstrike by Israel at the start of the Six-Day War of 1967. At 07:45 on June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force launched a massive airstrike that destroyed the majority of the Egyptian air force on the ground. By noon, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces, with about 450 aircraft, were destroyed.

Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • February 27, 2011
    TBTabby
    Needs A Better Title. The term "lame duck" is usually used to refer to an incompetent ruler.
  • February 27, 2011
    PaleHorse87
    In a democratic system 'lame duck' may refer to a person who has recently lost an election, but still has the authority to create and enforce laws.

    The more accepted term for this trope would be Sitting Duck.
  • February 27, 2011
    AFP
    Name is changed to Sitting Duck.
  • February 27, 2011
    Fanra
    Real Life: Operation Focus was the opening airstrike by Israel at the start of the Six-Day War of 1967. At 07:45 on June 5, 1967, the Israeli Air Force launched a massive airstrike that destroyed the majority of the Egyptian air force on the ground. By noon, the Egyptian, Jordanian and Syrian Air Forces, with about 450 aircraft, were destroyed.
  • February 28, 2011
    BlackDragon
    In Martian Successor Nadesico, the Jovian Lizards hit the Nadesico while it's landed to pick up survivors of the invasion of Mars, giving Yurika the Sadistic Choice of turning on the ships' Deflector Shields - crushing the refugees beneath it - or letting the attack destroy the Nadesico (likely killing most of the refugees when it crashed in flames). She chooses the former, but not without some angsting.
  • February 28, 2011
    Arivne
    Literature
    • Clive Cussler's The Mediterranean Caper. A World War I biplane strafes a U.S. Air Force base and destroys a number of F-105 Starfire jet fighters and C-133 Cargomasters while they're helpless on the ground.

    Video Games
    • Secret Weapons Of The Luftwaffe
      • One hypothetical German mission is attacking an Allied bomber base in Britain and destroying the B-17's on the ground before they can take off.
      • Another mission involved taking off while your airbase was under attack and fighting off the enemy planes.
    • The first German campaign mission in Red Baron was being on the receiving end of one of these. You had to get your plane into the air while your airbase was being strafed by attacking Allied planes.
  • February 28, 2011
    Stratadrake
    Sitting Duck is good except for being a pre-existing term that's far more generic than the definition of this trope (this trope is about the Cool Ship, while "sitting duck" is can be applied to anything). That's a good way to attract misuse.
  • February 28, 2011
    AFP
    Well, Sitting Duck or Lame Duck both have alternate definitions separate from how they are originally used. Better names are of course welcome. Caught With Their Pants Down sounds like something else though it can carry the same meaning. EDIT: Nevermind, it DOES have that meaning already. All Tropers Are Perverts? :-D

    I guess Sitting Duck can refer to anyone who is at an unfair disadvantage in a fight, like a bunch of Russian soldiers in a boat trying to cross the Volga while being shelled and strafed by the Germans. Thus far Lame Duck only brings forth the hunting/military terms (bird or aircraft caught on the ground) or the political term (politician on the way out, effectively free to do whatever he wants whilst packing his bags).
  • February 28, 2011
    Fanra
    If you insist on keeping this trope to only planes and space ships, then "Caught On The Ground" seems to work for me.
  • February 28, 2011
    foxley
    In GI Joe Special Missions #5, the Joes launch an airstrike to take out surface-to-air missiles at an enemy airfield. The secondary mission is to destroy any enemy aircraft while they are sill on the ground.
  • February 28, 2011
    AFP
    Well, the trope as presented would also apply to ships in port. The basic idea I'm trying to get is vehicles that would normally be very dangerous being rendered helpless because they are caught while parked or docked, possibly even while completely offline for maintenance.
  • February 28, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Pearl Harbor. Japanese catch the US Pacific fleet in port and destroy it.
  • March 1, 2011
    Stratadrake
    ...Actually, the term "lame duck" means something entirely different from "sitting duck".
  • March 1, 2011
    Glowsquid
  • March 1, 2011
    AFP
    As far as I can tell, "Sitting Duck" is the best name for the Trope, unless something better is suggested. The phrase refers to someone or something being vulnerable to attack due to being exposed and unprepared. It could also be used broadly to refer to people or things that are vulnerable due to disability, be it an injured person who is laid up in a hospital bed or a battleship with its boilers shut down in harbor for maintenance. Not sure if we want a trope broad enough to apply to a Cool Starship and some poor schmuck in a body cast with equal applicability.

    And yes, "Lame Duck" does indeed appear to be used mostly for politics, so that title is out.
  • March 2, 2011
    Arivne
    Film
    • Sky Captain And The World Of Tomorrow. Dr. Totenkopf's robot aircraft catch Sky Captain's planes on the ground (and in their hangers), almost completely wiping them out. Only Sky Captain's plane manages to get off the ground.
  • March 2, 2011
    Stratadrake
    If this is specifically about the Cool Ship, maybe USS Sitting Duck.
  • March 3, 2011
    AFP
    If anything, it's about the "Cool Vehicle", could be the Cool Ship, Cool Plane, or Cool Starship, the only consistent thing across the board is that these normally highly effective tools of war (or whatever) are rendered helpless because they are attacked while parked somewhere.
  • March 3, 2011
    AFP
    I want to say "Out Of Their Element" for a general trope of characters or things being ineffective because they are not where they are designed to function (an airplane on the ground, a ship in port, Superman on a planet with a red sun, etc.), though that is broader than what I am thinking of here.
  • March 6, 2011
    AFP
    OK, gonna throw a "Launching Soon" on this and throw out one more line for alternate titles.
  • March 6, 2011
    Arivne
    Tabletop Games
    • Task Force Games
      • Several Star Fleet Battles scenarios involved ships being caught by surprise attacks while in orbit or docked to a space station. The scenario usually had rules for "powering up" ship systems so the ships could fight.
      • Starfire scenario "The Paurl Harbor Raid". Rigellian carriers smashed Khanate battleships "at anchor" in Paurl Harbor, an obvious Shout Out to "Pearl Harbor".

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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