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Defenseless Transports

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For reasons of Competitive Balance, units designed to transport other units in strategy games tend not to be armed. This has the effect of turning them into The Load in most scenarios. In other games, they might provide the motivation for an Escort Mission.

In real life, most vehicles intended to be used on the front lines have at least a machine gun mount. But there is some Truth in Television to this trope (see below). Contrast Awesome Personnel Carrier, which is (usually) anything but defenseless.

Gaming examples:

First Person Shooter

  • Halo:
    • UNSC Pelicans are fitted with a chin-mounted chaingun or autocannon, wing-mounted missile pods, and a door gunner with a heavy machine gun, but these are never seen in the first game. Halo: The Flood, the novelization of Combat Evolved, explained it as them having run out of ammo off-screen, as the Pillar of Autumn's crew didn't have time to grab a whole lot of ammunition for their heavy weapons during the evacuation: there's an extended sequence in the novel of the Marines taking a convoy out to the crash site to restock. In Halo 3, their weapons get put to use in cutscenes, and Halo 4 introduces a gunship variant equipped with a heavy laser that the Master Chief gets to fly in one of the missions.
    • Averted by Covenant Spirit and Phantom dropships, which carry belly guns useful for clearing landing zones of pesky UNSC Marines (though they don't work as well against the Master Chief's Powered Armor). These ships are virtually indestructible without the use of special equipment (with the exception of Halo 3's Phantom, which can be destroyed with several shots from the Scorpion tank's main gun), though the guns can usually be destroyed with regular weapons fire.
    • Also averted in Halo 4 by the Mammoth, a UNSC Military Mashup Machine combining field command post, armored personnel and vehicle carrier, and self-propelled heavy artillery piece, with its flanks covered by homing missile turrets.
  • Mostly averted in Crysis. Humvees, transport trucks, and riverboats have mounted machine guns, and the Marines' VTOLs (seemingly meant as successors to the V-22 Osprey) have machine guns and missiles. However, the island also has civilian pickup trucks, which are unarmed (Car Fu excepted).
  • Downplayed in PlanetSide 1. While none of the logistics vehicles were armed or even had spare seats for a friend, most ground transports had weaponry but were usually pretty helpess; the Harasser dune buggy had a pathetic 12mm machine gun that could hit nothing and did little when it did, and the Sunderer Big Badass Rig was so bad at everything that it was replaced with significantly up-armed and armored empire-specific variants geared more towards combat and breaching than transport, which the airborne and gun-laden Galaxy did far better. The sequel gives weapons to every vehicle, and the two ground transports - the Harasser and Sunderer - can take on tanks with the right weapon and a competent crew.a

Flight Sim

  • Several Escort Missions in the X-Wing series are built around protecting troop transports on their way to or from an objective. While these transports are armed, the AI often seems to conveniently forget about this, leaving the player to do all the work. The games' Spiritual Successor Rogue Squadron continues the trend.
  • Industrial ships in EVE Online are designed to transport large amounts of material and are virtually defenseless, having paper-thin armor and poor, if any, weapons. Taken to the extreme with freighters, the capital-class industrial ships. While the regular industrials can at least fit some defense modules or weapons, freighters have no fitting slots whatsoever! (Although in practice freighters are actually much harder to destroy than regular industrials, as their much greater size gives them much more effective hit points than even a heavily tanked industrial).
  • Downplayed in the X-Universe series. While most TP- and TS-class freighters have a weapon turret, they are effectively defenseless against combat ships because they can barely power the weapon; their only recourse is to jump out. TM- and TL-class ships are tougher and carry fighters but they're still quite vulnerable due to their size (particularly the TLs) and mediocre-at-best weapons loadout.
  • Spoony complains about this phenomenon in his review of Privateer 2: The Darkening. In the game you have to hire and escort cargo ships. Often the cargo ships will jump ahead and you will be detained, leaving them to go ahead to be destroyed while defenseless.
    • Yet, the game also averts this with larger and more expensive transports becoming increasingly tough and well armed. The largest transport ships can often double as a small capital ship, blowing away most enemies before you get the chance.
  • Ace Combat regularly has enemy transport aircraft (and ship, rarely) as mission targets. They generally have fighter escorts and can absorb multiple missiles, but can't fight back in any way. Conversely, the player must regularly protect friendly transports as part of an Escort Mission.

Real Time Strategy

  • Age of Empires series: transports, except for Norse longships in Age of Mythology, have no attacks.
  • Zigzagged in the Command & Conquer series: land-based transports like APCs usually have guns, and they can all run over (most) infantry. But sea and air-based transports are unarmed.
    • In C&C Red Alert 2, played straight as the massive amphibious transports have no defence against anything. The Allied mining vehicle has no defence eithernote  but the Soviet one gets a LMG and a good deal of armor. The Allied Nighthawk transport helicopter has a small chin-mounted machine gun but it does so little damage it may as well be an Emergency Weapon.
    • In C&C Red Alert 3, the Soviet APC is armed with an AA battery and the Allied one with a MG and torpedo tubes. While the Japanese one is unarmed, it can disguise itself as an enemy vehicle. Played straight with the Soviet and Allied mining trucks - the Japanese one can deploy a light gun but it will lose its cargo.
  • StarCraft
    • The Drop Ships used by all three races have no attacks. Neither do Protoss carriers. But between missions Terran dropships and other units are carried from system to system aboard Battlecruisers, and Carriers have energy weapons capable of sterilizing planets.
    • The lack of weapons on dropships is lampshaded by one of the Hyperion's engineers in the novel Flashpoint, and she outfits one with guns just in time for a Gunship Rescue.
    • StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty features a mission where Raynor's Raiders attack several unarmed transport trains with the new Diamondback Hover Tank, which can fire on the move and keep up with the train.
  • Warcraft III: There are no faction-unique APCs, the only transport options are the mercenary zeppelins/ships, which have no defense but their speed (and if killed over deep water, all units are lost, if killed over land or shallow water, the units are alive but horribly slowed, making them easy prey). In Warcraft II both sides could build defenseless transports.
  • WarGames Defcon 1 zig-zags this trope around. The Awesome Personnel Carrier used by both NORAD and WOPR have high defense, but it's sole weapon is a light turret that does Scratch Damage on tanks and vehicles. Meanwhile, aerial transports like the Chinook helicopters for NORAD and Phoenix Carriers for WOPR are completely defenseless against air attacks. Same goes for the Amphibious vehicles for both factions, who can only carry troops around. It becomes a plot point in one WOPR mission in Hong Kong - you'll need to control a defenseless hovercraft through NORAD's heavily-armed Naval Base in Victoria Harbor to retrieve a drone Trapped Behind Enemy Lines and make your way back, and most of your mission have you controlling said transport around enemy waters or be blown up.
  • Dawn of War:
    • The Space Marine and Chaos Marine Rhino APC doesn't have guns, but it does have a smoke grenade launcher. Note that in the source material Rhinos are armed with a Storm Bolter (a twin-barreled SMG with exploding rounds). And even in Dawn of War there are other, armed APCs (for example, the Space Marines' Land Raider super-heavy tank doubles as a troop transport, the only one that can carry Terminators).
    • What's extra weird is that the Sisters of Battle Rhino is armed, but the Space Marine Rhino remains weaponless.
    • The Tau's APC is not only armed but invisible.
    • The Necrons don't have an APC, as they only have one unit that needs to be stored in a Monolith so as to be teleported onto the battlefield (Flayed Ones). However, if they get a relic, that Monolith becomes a (vaguely) mobile mountain of devastation constantly spewing lightning and new troops, with Flayed Ones teleporting back to it so as to be sent elsewhere.
    • Ork trukks have guns, because even their buildings have guns.
    • The Eldar transport can be upgraded to be anti-vehicle, and is the closest thing to a flying transport in the game.
    • Imperial Guard Chimeras and Dark Eldar Raiders also allow loaded units to shoot while being carried.
  • Dune II: Carryalls (which carried units around the battlefield) had no weapons.
  • Trucks and transport helicopters in World in Conflict can carry infantry squads but have no weaponry whatsoever. Jeeps can also carry infantry but have a mounted machinegun—however, the machinegun is so weak compared to other units' weapons, the jeeps might as well be unarmed.
  • In Empire at War ground units are moved from system to system by unarmed shuttles. In the Empire's case ships that were quite clearly shown launching from Star Destroyers.
  • In Sins of a Solar Empire Carrier Cruisers don't have any weapons of their own. But capital ships that carry Strike Craft are armed.
  • In Battle Zone 1998 and the sequel, Tugs do not carry any weapons, being "Utility" units used only to shuffle ancient relics around in the campaign, make a Humongous Mecha move slightly faster by carrying it the tug's magnetic grips, or carry treaded vehicles over water in the sequel. APCs have no weaponry besides dumping out their squadron of infantry; they're pretty bad in 1998 because they're also slow and the infantry are weak Cannon Fodder, but Battlezone II's APC flies above weapons range before dropping down and spewing out armored troops wielding bazookas.
  • Transport Ships and Air Transports in Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds are totally unarmed and lack any kind of fire points.
  • Civilian ships in Celestus (freight liners, mining modules, construction modules...) are unarmed. Flying them through enemy territory unescorted is... unwise.
  • Units in the Wargame series are modeled on real world military vehicles and as such run the gamut. Supply transports are near universally unarmed and will surrender if an enemy so much as gets near them. Troop transports on the other hand can be anything from unarmed trucks to Hind attack choppers with the firepower to wipe out entire tank columns. It's sometimes worth it to call in infantry reinforcements simply for their transports rather than for the troops themselves.
  • Downplayed in most grand strategy games by Paradox Interactive: Europa Universalis IV, Victoria II and Hearts of Iron IV all feature transport ships or convoys that do have limited combat abilities, but compared to actual warships they might as well be defenseless unless they severely outnumber their opponent. Crusader Kings 2 technically plays it straight, but since all ships are transport ships it only results in there not being a mechanic for naval combat at all.
  • Empire Earth II: Subverted in the first 5 ages, where the only transport is also the only warship (Galley/Trireme/Decareme), which can carry 9/12/15 units and then provide support fire due to its surprisingly long range. Played straight afterwards when transports have no defenses.
  • Homeworld Cataclysm: Mission 7 has you responding to a distress call from a Republic Taiidan convoy under attack from the Beast, which intends to subvert and assimilate the helpelss colony ships using self-guided bio-warhead missiles.


  • Civilization and sequels:
    • Civilization II starts out with ships that can both carry troops and fight, but as the tech tree advances, this trope comes into play. If you have built Leonardo's Workshop, then you don't even get a choice; a Caravel that was able to fight, upon researching Magnetism, will be automatically upgraded to a Galleon that can't (but has more carrying capacity). At that point, though, you can still build new Frigates, with reduced capacity but enhanced offensive capabilities — until you research Industrialization, at which the new, weaponless Transport will obsolete the Frigate too.
    • In vanilla Civilization V, land units gain the ability to embark onto transports to cross water once the 'Optics' tech is researched. While in this state, they are completely defenseless, and even a super-advanced Giant Death Robot will be easy prey for a leftover barbarian Galley. The expansions change this, giving embarked units the ability to fight back (although not very effectively).
    • The latter continues with Civilization: Beyond Earth, although a number of higher-tech units are Hover Tanks, so they don't actually convert to transports when entering water.
    • In Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, transport modules use the same slot in the unit workshop as weapons. However, since combat tests the attacker's weapon strength against the defender's armor strength, and psi combat is based on morale instead of either, it's possible for a weaponless transport to win a battle but not attack.
  • Galactic Civilizations. The default troop transport has no weapons or defenses, though the players can design new transports that are armed. And one of the possible United Planets referenda is a mandate that transports have defenses, after all they carry millions if not billions of people.
    • The sequels allow for custom ship design, with troop transport modules being just an item to be attached to a hardpoint. However, they take up a lot of space, so it's impractical to place them on any small hull. Early on, this means a noncombat hull (with 1 HP), although nothing prevents you from also arming the thing to the teeth and placing enough defenses to keep enemy shots from even reaching your hull.
  • Played straight to the point of silliness in Rise of Nations. Once you have a sea port any land units that hit water will automatically turn into unarmed transport ships.
  • Averted big-time with the DOS turn-based Empire strategy game, which allows every unit including troop transports and aircraft carriers to both attack and defend (although you'd still want to keep them out of battle most of the time since their carrying capacity depends on hit points remaining).
  • Crusader Kings doesn't even have marine combat: galleys are only useful for moving armies over seas.
  • Master of Orion has troop transports that cannot be customized or armed in any way. Their only purpose is to carry and drop infantry to invade enemy colonies and cannot be reused. Unescorted transports are automatically destroyed upon encountering hostile ships.
  • In Stellaris Civilian ships and Troop Transports aren't armed. If hostile ships appear in the same system they jump out ASAP. Though Strikecraft carriers are treated like warships with one module dedicated to a hangar bay, the other modules can be armed to the teeth.
  • Played straight for all factions in Birth of the Federation except for the Klingons. Even their colony ships have disruptors on them. However, all Romulan ships (including troop transports) have Invisibility Cloaks, which means they can just run from the battle during their initial Extra Turn (unless they're attacked by one of the two Klingon ship types with cloaking devices or a Defiant-class).

Role-Playing Games

  • Unlike ground vehicles in the previous games, Mass Effect: Andromeda's Nomad all-terrain vehicle is completely unarmed (though it at least has shields). The same is true of Pathfinder Ryder's Cool Starship the Tempest, which, unlike Commander Shepard's military frigate SSV Normandy, has no weapons (which puts her in a tight spot during a couple cutscene encounters with kett warships).


  • In MechWarrior Living Legends, the armored personnel carrier is armed with only a pathetic pair of machine guns which are only a threat to battlearmor and a source of eye glare to battlemechs, and a single laser anti-missile turret. The Dummied Out Karnov transport VTOL has a couple turrets, each with a single small pulse laser, giving it a third (at best) of the firepower of a entry-level battlemech.
  • MechWarrior games in general tend to zigzag this trope, depending on the size of the transport. Any vehicles designed to carry personnel - APCs, transport choppers or VTOLs, etc. - tend to at best have weapons that will barely scratch the paint on a battlemech. Dropships, however, can easily pack the firepower of an entire assault lance, typically sporting several Gauss Rifles, PPCs, and/or Large Lasers.
  • In the Naval Ops series, enemy transports regularly turn up as easy targets for the player's ludicrously well-armed ship. They have relatively few hit points and no weapons. Friendly transports occasionally turn up to be escorted.

Turn Based Strategy

  • Advance Wars has three such vehicles: APC for ground transport, Lander for sea transport, and Transport Copter for air transport. As none of those vehicles can fight back if provoked, this leaves them open to enemy attacks if the CO is not careful.
  • Nectaris has two transport units. The NC-1 Mule truck averts this, being capable of attacking ground and air units; its weak attack power can be compensated for by surrounding its target with the same unit it unloaded only a turn or so ago. The C-61 Pelican plane, however, is totally weaponless, and makes easy prey for other airplanes (all of which have greater movement range).
  • Super Robot Wars: Original Generation has Tausendfussler-class transports that are completely unarmed and poorly armored, mostly serving as Escort Mission fodder or background NPCs.
  • Played straight in Pacific Fleet and Atlantic Fleet, where missions that involve merchant shipping, oil tankers, and troop transports have them entirely unarmed. In the dynamic campaign of the second game, if a German ship or U-boat encounters an Allied convoy without an escort, the unarmed transports are automatically destroyed. Germany has a few auxiliary cruisers, which are civilian transports equipped with some guns, but they're considered warships in the game (their only advantage is that they appear right on top of the enemy and can get a few shots in and have a chance of sinking a destroyer or two.
  • In Ten Minute Space Strategy, bombers and colonisers can give some firepower to your fleet if you pick the right traits before beginning the game, but this doesn't change the fact that without fighters escorting them, they will get wrecked effortlessly by either the enemy's fighters or their planetary defence systems.

Wide-Open Sandbox

  • Escape Velocity:
    • Varies by game and by ship, but generally the base model freighter is unarmed and frequently only lightly shielded. However, players will often use mass expansions to turn part of bigger freighters' cargo bays into room for weapons, a process nicknamed "mass-modding". Upper-tier freighters (the Freight-Courier in Override, the Enterprise, Pegasus, and some Leviathan variants in Nova) frequently carry heavier armament, though they still don't hold a candle to actual warships.
    • The Polaris Sprite light freighter and Cambrian heavy freighter in EV Nova are justified examples due to the Polaran Fantastic Caste System. Freight transport is the responsibility of the worker caste, the Tre'pira, while combat is solely the responsibility of the Nil'kemorya, the warrior caste (and they're so good at it that the Tre'pira lacking weapons is a non-issue). The Sprite and Cambrian each have a hardpoint for a turret but no expansion mass to put anything in (though again, players can buy items to remedy this at outfitters).
    • The Executive Transport in Classic lacks even a weapon hardpoint, which is possibly why it is one of only three non-mission ships in Classic that can't be bought (it is also the only proper ship in any of the games that lacks a hardpoint).

Tabletop Games

  • In Axis & Allies troop transports have no attack power whatsoever and a pitiful 1 defense. Later editions got rid of that as well, so that even one enemy unit moving on undefended transports will destroy them all without a fight.
  • In Twilight Imperium carriers have minimal defenses. Though if they're carrying fighters instead of ground troops those can protect them.
  • Played straight for some armies in Warhammer 40,000, but subverted for others. Generally dedicated transport units tend to have less firepower and defenses than combat vehicles, barring the Land Raider (which can be taken as a dedicated transport for Space Marine Terminators but otherwise uses a heavy support slot like a "proper" tank), but how defenseless they are varies. Space Marine Rhinos have low armour and only a single storm bolter (a slightly longer range version a basic infantry gun), while Imperial Guard Chimeras actually mount fairly good mid-strength weaponry. And then you have the Eldar Wave Serpent, which is arguably one of the best battletanks in game, combining medium armour, high speed and good firepower.
  • Avalon Hill board games
    • Starship Troopers. Air Cars and Retrieval Boats have no attack capability.
    • 1776. Bateaux (boats) and Transport Fleets (ships) can't attack other units.
    • Panzerblitz and Panzer Leader. Trucks and wagons have no weapons.
    • Panzerarmee Afrika. Truck units have no combat capability.
  • In Hc Svnt Dracones Carriers have no weapons arrays by default, they rely on their drones and flak barriers. Though they do have two Omni-Slots that weapons could be fitted into, or landing bays for carrying corvette's, or point-defenses.
  • Several ships that provide Trade in Star Realms, such as Scouts and other low cost transports, do not provide Combat points. Higher cost transports could do damage, and even the low-cost Explorer could do damage if you trash it.

Non-gaming examples:

Comic Books
  • Wonder Woman (1987): The Sangtee Empire slave transports are entirely defenseless despite there being anti-slavery sentiment in the empire. Once Diana's Space Pirate Revolutionaries start stealing the ships and freeing all the slaves the empire starts sending fighter escorts along when transporting slaves and political prisoners in large shipments.

Fan Fiction

Live-Action Film

  • In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the transports aboard the Raddus are slow, with no weapons, Deflector Shields, or hyperdrive. This becomes a problem when the First Order learns how to see through their Invisibility Cloak and starts firing on them.
    • The above example is particularly odd since the last film featured Resistance Transports with all the features the new transports lack but the film pretends those transports don't exist.
    • The Techno Union Transports from Attack of the Clones are completely unarmed but do have shields and hyperdrives. The Trade Federation Core Ships and Commerce Guild Cruisers from the same film were armed but the weapons negligible at best for any sort of prolonged combat.

Real Life

  • In the age of sail it was practical for merchantmen to be at least lightly armed (and in some cases like the Dutch and British East India Companies, well armed); but that ended when warships adopted metal armor and turret guns. Supply ships are now 100% dependent on escort and air cover.
  • When tanks need to move any substantial distance outside the battlefield, they're loaded onto wheeled transports to save fuel, plus wear and tear on the tracks. Needless to say, they're generally vulnerable in that state.
  • The Humvee was designed as a light truck and was never intended to be an armored car. Improvised or retrofitted armor, and weapons mounts, had to be added for asymmetric warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  • The official definition of an Armoured Personnel Carrier includes the line "is armed with an integral or organic weapon of less than 20 millimeters calibre." Which, of course, means that practically every one of them has a mounted Browning machine gun or a grenade launcher.
  • Most cargo ships of the world wars were unarmed, making them easy pickings for submarines; during the early years of both wars, German U-boats would more often use their deck guns to take out lone ships. During the latter years of World War II, the armaments of cargo ships improved, though these still meant little to dedicated warships or aircraft.
    • Large, fast ocean liners acting as troop transports averted this trope by being simply too fast for the rather slow U-boats to catch - and in the case of RMS Olympic, simply running over and sinking a hapless U-boat that wandered in front of its bow.
    • Even the light armament of a merchant ship could still be deadly. In 1943, the US Liberty ship SS Stephen Hopkins, while sailing alone in an area thought to be safe, encountered the heavily-armed German armed merchant raider Stier. Hopkins had the standard armament for a Liberty ship at the time: a single 4-inch gun and a few antiaircraft guns, but did enough damage to Stier that the raider sank shortly after her opponent.
  • The C-47 Skytrain note  was completely defenseless while taking Allied paratroops over enemy territory. The Soviet licensed copy sometimes mounted a single machine gun in a dorsal turret, but it wasn't terribly effective.
    • Obsolete British bombers recycled for transport, delivering paratroopers and for towing gliders, such as the Short Stirling, had most of their gun turrets deleted and faired over and were in the same position.
    • Subverted by the Mosquito light bomber, which was also used as a courier aircraft and occasionally modified to carry a small number of passengers: It was unarmed in these roles, but so was the original bomber version because it was fast enough to outrun any Axis fighter then in production.
    • German and Soviet transport planes, as a general rule, carried built-in defensive guns, and as such averted this trope.


Video Example(s):


Sudden Transport

Explosive hovercraft that can assume other vehicles' shape to sneak behind enemy lines.

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

Main / DressingAsTheEnemy

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