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In the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, the Cylon Resurrection Ship is the single most important ship the Cylons have. After all, their very lives literally depend on it (without it, if they die, they die). Even though there may be other resurrection ships (certainly, after the events of season 2), they're still important enough to be escorted by multiple battlestars.
In today's navy, hospital ships are allowed to carry defensive weapons, and they can be as heavily armored as anyone wants. In the BSG 'verse, there's no international law to prevent the Cylons from building resurrection ships as tough and battle-ready as they like. But instead of building them like a heavily armored battlestar on steroids, they make them a delicate, spidery, flimsy lattice of glass and thin metal frames, without armor or weapons. Is there an in-universe or EU explanation for this?

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It is pretty, though.

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They were never intended to be the only download point.

When the Cylons built their fleet, they had planned to wipe out humanity in a single decisive blow.‡ The resurrection ships were built primarily to support this one battle, and to act as an aid to the resurrection hub. Resurrection takes sufficient enough time that downloaded Cylons could not be expected to aid in the battle once they had died. As we saw in the episode Downloaded, they have the capability to buffer resurrections for a great deal of time. If they lost a ship in the initial battle, it would only delay resurrection until after their victory. In this context, they were disposable.

Things did not go as planned.

When the colonial fleet escaped, and the Cylons gave chase, they did not have the time or resources to build a new set of resurrection ships capable of withstanding a direct attack. Their hand was forced - they had to field the resurrection ships, as is, into the chase. Even then, it was not a tactically unsound move. The ship was guarded by other vessels, which made an attack by a single Battlestar a low risk proposition, especially since the Battlestar they were chasing was not seen to start many fights (Galactica had greater concerns guarding the fleet. Alone, it would have never sought to fight a couple of Basestars and the resurrection ship.) Nor did they have any reason to believe that the colonials had any knowledge of the resurrection ship. It was thought to be acceptable to allow the under-armored under-armed ship to remain in service in the field would be low risk.

Things did not go as planned.

The Galactica and the Pegasus meeting was something that could not have been planned for‡ nor would their knowledge of the existence of the ship, nor their willingness to attack it.

It was a tactical mistake for the ship to have been under-armored, but it is not illogical that it would have happened. The ship was never intended to be anywhere but the home system of the Cylons and the colonies.

An Aside

The defensive weapons a hospital ship carries are minimal. To quote the United States Naval War College (PDF link):

While it is clear that crews of hospital ships may be armed for their own defense, GWS-Sea does not specify what are permissible weapons. The accepted norm for arming medical personnel ashore has been "small arms" such as pistols and rifles, and that norm was equally applied to the crews of hospital ships. Traditionally, it was thought that light, portable, individual weapons such as pistols and rifles were all that was needed for personal defense on hospital ships. Crew-served weapons, such as machine guns, were presumed to go beyond the need for use in self-defense, given that belligerents were bound to not attack hospital ships under the provisions of GWS-Sea.

Modern hospital ships, if there were attacked by a belligerent naval force, with guns and missiles, are totally defenseless. The weapons carried on USNS Mercy and USNS Comfort are pistols. This part of the analogy to a resurrection ship matches the facts - the resurrection ship had no weapons of consequence.

What does not hold is a lack of international convention that would make attacking a hospital ship an undesirable act. And even if such a convention existed, the colonials would be loath to define a resurrection ship as a hospital ship, as it would require defining cylons as life. In that point alone, the analogy falls apart, and is invalid.

‡ Six of the seven had intended this. The seventh had to pretend to intend this.

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The resurrection ship was replaceable and there were many of them, and also never intended to be near any battle. You get the impression there was always supposed to be several in range at any one time.

It was only as the human fleet got further from the colonies that the resurrection ships became further spread and much more important singularly.

You may have been thinking of the Resurrection Hub which was much more important and irreplaceable. But that was heavily defended.

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    another key point is the resurrection ships where made by the original 5 thousands of years ago, and any newer versions were based of the original. and the battle stars were created by the new mech cylons and not the final 5, as the final 5 were originally civilian scientists, who were being exterminated, compared to the mech cylons fighting to free themselves, and then destroy their enslavers. – Himarm Dec 18 '14 at 20:02
  • I don't see where the idea that "The resurrection ship was replaceable and there were many of them" could come from. In fact, it's stated in-universe that it would take months to replace it. If they were common, they could just jump another one in. – Joe L. Dec 18 '14 at 20:03
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    @JoeL. we see mention of multiple resurrection ships in various dialogs in-universe, such as in The Plan where the two Cavils are about to be airlocked, one asks the other "is there a resurrection ship in range?" and gets the reply "yes." The fact that the Resurrection Ship was destroyed in Season 2, Episode 11/12, and we see the repercussions of that in Season 2, Episode 15 "Scar", but we see the Cylons have gone back to being able to be resurrected by Season 3 Episode 1 with the occupation of New Caprica. – Moo Dec 19 '14 at 9:18
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    @JoeL. The fact that Resurrection Ships are plentiful and replaceable is made clear in Season 4, Episode 9 which forms the basis of the attack on the Resurrection Hub. The plot line is that the Resurrection Ships have no special technology that cannot be replaced, all the work is infact done by the Hub and the Ships act as range extenders - destroy the Hub and the Ships stop working, destroy a Ship and it can be replaced. – Moo Dec 19 '14 at 9:19
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    No, but equally the fleet wasn't meant to escape - humanity was supposed to be wiped out in the initial assault, not left to run away and be chased for 4 seasons. Its highly probable that there was never any intention for Resurrection Ships to be involved in any conflict, just positioned near enough to the colonies so that the few Cylon deaths occurring during the invasion would be handled. The fleet escaping was an entirely unexpected turn of events, leading to the Resurrection Ships having to be part of the chase. – Moo Dec 19 '14 at 13:27

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