The Emperors’ Sword: Some Notes

(I also want to note that I could equally well title this series “The Empresses’ Sword” – the word, after all, is identical and gender-affix free in the original Eldraeic. Not my fault that English is an annoyingly inflexible and imprecise language…

…but alternating would probably confuse folks and make it harder to search for.)

Before we get on to the actual details of the bulk of the forces in question, some assorted notes on other topics:

Artillery

The Legions, by and large, do not take artillery with them to the battlefield, despite their love of big guns and heavy firepower. The reasoning is as follows:

  1. Either you control the orbitals above the battlespace (even in an over-horizon sense), or the enemy does.
  2. If you do, you don’t need ground artillery, because you can simply drop KEWs from orbit.
  3. If they do, and you still need more gun than your heavy tanks can give you, you’re just providing the enemy with a big, fat, slow target (in the shape of your towed/self-propelled guns) that they can drop KEWs on from orbit.
  4. Either way, it ain’t going to help you.

Policy in this area, therefore, is to be generous in handing out the EI-12D Valkyrie target designator to ground forces, and let them call down all the “rods from god” and other ortillery weapons that they need.

(There are mortar-equivalents, of a sort; as we’ll see later, the IL-15i Battlesystem battle carbine includes an underslung sluggun capable of firing anti-materiel spikes, bore-compatible grenades, and gyroc micromissiles – and since its mass driver is quite powerful and its targeting software is entirely capable of handling an arching trajectory shot, one of these with the right ammunition is quite capable of functioning as an effective mortar.)

Close Air Support

Close air support is most commonly provided by the G7-BU Sunhawk, badass tilt-turbine/hybrid-rocket and (from an authorial perspective) shameless homage to the A-10 Thunderbolt II (“Warthog”), a wing or two of which is organically attached to most legions. It flies low, it hovers, it delivers untold quantities of messy death via a gun so large the whole airframe is built around it with the able assistance of a fine collection of auxiliary missiles and bombs. It is ably accompanied by the G12-BU Falcon, a smaller air-support vehicle built along similar lines, with a chin-mounted mass driver and cheek-mounted short-range missile launchers.

Much like the dedicated air-to-air interceptors (which, as a side note, are usually operated by the Navy as the irritating orbit-to-atmosphere subset of space operations), these are designed to be able to sortie from aerospace cruisers in low forced orbit, as well as from ground airfields should the campaign run long enough for you to have any ground airfields.

Closer air support comes from the Legions’ fine selection of UAVs fielded as support weapons – special attention here should go to the LD-116 Ravager variant of the modular battle tank platform, whose entire function is to dispatch and coordinate wings of ad-hoc micro-UAVs as needed in the current battlespace – and the occasional wide-area nanoswarm “death cloud” used for area-denial or line-breaking.

Even closer air support comes from some of the half-dozen combat drones slaved to every legionary as a matter of course, and also – for the heavy infantry and the cavalry – from the microbot/nanite cyberswarms they’re toting with them as expendable recon assets and balefire eaters.

Delivery

The most usual means of delivering legionaries about the place is the G5-TT Corvee, a quad-engined tilt-turbine/hybrid rocket vehicle with a modular changeout system which allows it to serve as – among others – a troop transport – for legionaries and their IFVs – medevac ship, gunship, or missile platform as desired, although these latter are rare as close air support role is usually left to the Sunhawk. These serve the purpose of transporting the legionaries around planetside, and also – since like the Sunhawk, their hybrid-rocket capabilities let them reach and return from starships in low orbit – from orbit down to the orbithead.

Establishing an orbithead in the first place when you don’t have a landing zone, on the other hand, is the hard part, for which there are multiple varieties of ways to drop from orbit fast and lithobrake, depending on exactly who you are. For this, light legionaries get the Sledgehammer-class drop shuttle (to drop entire companies at one go) and the Fist-class triple-drop pod, used to insert a three-legionary fireteam and their drones. (The Fist is primarily, but not exclusively, used for special forces ops.) Heavy legionaries, by contrast, get the Piton-class single-legionary drop pod, which is essentially a disposable shell with braking rockets, ECM, and decoys that fits around the outside of the M70 Havoc combat exoskeleton and lets you fire it out of a missile tube.

The cavalry get the Flapjack-class cavalry dropship, of which more has been said elsewhere.

The other exceptional transit mechanism is used by legionary espatiers/ship’s troops when attempting hostile boarding actions. Usually a starship to be boarded has already surrendered, and as such legionaries can board it through its normal docks and locks, carried by their parent vessel’s pinnace and safely under its guns; but rarely, it is necessary to board and take a starship that is still resisting, or more commonly a habitat. For this, what is formally known as the microgravity assault vehicle (MAV) but more commonly referred to as the boarding torpedo exists, the most common being the Marlinspike-class. The job of a MAV is to avoid fire on the way to boarding, ram the target, cut through the hull, and crawl forward to wedge itself into a position suitable for discharging troops directly into the inner spaces of said target. This is what you might call a high-risk, low-survivability operation, which is why it’s very rarely done.

Enhancements

Given who we’re talking about here, there really shouldn’t be any need to say that everyone in the Legions is enhanced to the eyeballs with milspec bio-, nano-, and cybertechnology. Baselines don’t cut it on the modern battlefield; much too slow, fragile, and suchlike. So it doesn’t matter what species you were: eldrae, kaeth, etc., once you join the Legions – and you’ve made it through the first half of the Anvil so they can be pretty sure you’re not going to wash out – it’s into the healing vats to be stripped down and put back together with a full set of military-basic upgrades: faster reflexes, better senses, less need for sleep, skin, muscle, and bone weaves for extra resilience and strength, an auxiliary heart if you didn’t already have one, faster healing, immunity to fear (in the proper sense that means you still receive warning signals when you ought to be cautious, but it can never overpower your volition), and so on and so forth…

Logistics

Which I will mention here simply to point out that yes, they have logistics. Lots and lots of logistics, although most of the logistic chain is the Navy’s business, and only the part involving getting it planetside and to the right people at the end belongs to the Legions. The teeth need the tail – but in these posts, I’m mostly examining the teeth, so the tail will not be mentioned much. A detailed look at it may happen in the indefinite future.

Special Forces

The Imperial military is actually rather heavy on special forces, by most standards, given the Empire’s general preference for subtlety, indirection, and outright deviousness whenever possible and strong dispreference for anything resembling mass attritional warfare. Which makes it a rather complicated subject, and something that I’ll deal with, by and large, also later.

Sophonts on the Battlefield?

Why do they even have sophonts on the battlefield, and not just field vast armies of nothing but drones, possibly remote-controlled?

Because:

(a) Tactical networks aren’t totally reliable; and

Because there are such things as signal jamming, and EMP, and plain old interference, and people knocking out intermediate network nodes, and having someone sophont and able to make decisions down there in the battlespace means no-one ends up in the embarrassing position of playing the Trade Federation in The Phantom Menace. Which is good, ’cause those guys should have won awards for sheer logistical dumbassery.

(b) Light-lag is a bitch; and

If you want to stay inside the enemy’s OODA loop, adding a whole bunch of signal delay is not a good way to do it. Milliseconds count on the modern battlefield. Hell, sometimes, microseconds count.

(c) More minds equals more flexibility.

An ecology of thousands of interacting minds responds much better to stresses and the unexpected than a single or small number of central controllers. A giant peer-to-peer network made up of nodes with initiative is much less likely to screw up and stay screwed up – which is especially valuable when said screw-ups involve getting killed and/or losing the war.

Specialized Legions

What we’re going to be talking about in later parts of this series are the four basic types of legion: light infantry, heavy infantry, light cavalry, and heavy cavalry, maintained at an approximate 9:3:3:1 ratio.

The legions, of course, also have innumerable slightly-specialized variants on these basic themes, along with outright specialist legions: guards/peacekeepers, communications specialists, combat engineers, super-heavies, military police, siege specialists, logistics specialists, undersea legions, first-strike specialists, reconnaissance specialists, saboteurs, experimental technology legions, battle theater prep specialists, automaton legions, hunter legions, special weapons legions, medical specialists, underground specialists, even terror legions. I don’t plan on detailing all these specialized variants here, though, just the basic types they vary from.

The Legions don’t have a separate military intelligence section, however: Admiralty Intelligence performs that function for the entire Imperial Military Service.

Next time: the light infantry in all their glory…

Trope-a-Day: BFG

BFG: Oh, several.  Let’s start with “that created by any excuse to shove antimatter rifle-grenades in your sluggun (see: Abnormal Ammo) or battle carbine and cut loose”, shall we?  There are also a variety of multibarrel miniguns, and yes, hypothetically even some that you can shove antimatter rifle-grenades into (see: More Dakka).

Specific examples would include the S-11i Mamabear, a souped-up sluggun which requires heavy bone reinforcement of most species in order to cope with the recoil, but can pull off one-shot kills on just about anything you care to name; the E40 Motherstorm, a very overpowered electrolaser that is unsafe at any setting, but very useful against mechanicals if the environment will let you use it; every single hunting weapon ever on Paltraeth, the kaeth homeworld, where the apex predators are oversized velociraptors with natural scale-mail plating; and the EI-12d Valkyrie target designator, which on its own is a tiny weak modulated laser, but which if there’s an orbital defense grid or an assault cruiser owning the local orbitals, can unleash more hell than everything else in this entry added together.

In the Fire Breathing Weapons category, the plasma-belching sets-fire-to-everything-around power-armor-mounted weapon of doom that is the KF-11 Dragonspume.  Even if its primary use is taking down cyberswarms and nanoswarms through thermal overload.

In the vehicle-mounted weapons category, that minigun-class weapon which is fitted to a G7-BU Sunhawk (see: Cool Plane) and which necessitates – as does the main weapon of the aircraft to which it is a homage – some special care in using to avoid find yourself flying backwards.

And any number of the one-off custom designs from Eye-in-the-Flame Arms, whose weapons designers (drawn, substantially, from the Cyprium-ith-Gislith line) consider the existence of any practical purpose for the weapon distinctly secondary to generating more and more extreme levels of overkill.

Trope-a-Day: Cool Plane

Cool Plane: As a first note, I should point out that the development of aeronef aircraft was bent out of shape on Eliéra because of its lack of fossil fuels – and given the demand for them for lubrication, chemical feedstocks, and so forth, the price of large quantities of them to burn was, ah, not exactly favorable.  Meanwhile, it did possess plentiful radioactive elements, which is one reason why airships were much more popular (and still are for regular passenger/freight transport) in the early days, simply because it’s so much easier to find room for a nuclear steam engine in their mass budget.

But that also meant that when aeronefs were developed apart from the original experimental models and limited-production-run special vehicles, they tended to be in odd areas of the technological envelope by our standards, like nuclear-electric ducted-prop designs, hydrogen-burning turbofans (later propfans), both hydrogen and nuclear thermal (i.e., essentially an air-cooled reactor, Project Pluto-style) ramjets/scramjets, and aerospike rocket engines – sometimes in combination on the same airframe.

As a side note, helicopters are largely excluded from this, because the Empire’s technological development went down a different road to fill their niche.  While the concept does exist in the form of some test models and experimental aircraft, their functional niche is filled instead by tilt-rotors and tilt-turbines.

Some various examples follow:

  • The I-2 Starbolt, the first dedicated space interceptor – which is to say, the first plane which was designed to sortie from aerospace cruisers in low orbit rather than from the ground.  It wasn’t the first aircraft to technically be able to achieve low orbit (those aerospikes, don’ch’know?), but it was the first that could repeatably sortie from it, enter the atmosphere, fly a useful mission profile, and return to its mother ship.  Technically, it’s been overtaken by a lot of its successors in the transatmospheric fighter/interceptor and bomber roles both, but the grand old flying-wing that was the first to manage that particular damn cool trick still gets the respect.
  • While it is a tilt-turbine, and therefore arguably fills the ‘helicopter’ role rather than the ‘plane’ one, the G7-BU Sunhawk is a shameless homage to the A-10 Thunderbolt.  (And one that gets more appreciation than the A-10 does from its own organization, since its particular role is operated organically by the Legions rather than by the Navy, and every legionary knows full well that, in the words of Schlock Mercenary, “When the going gets tough, the tough call for close air support”.)
  • The K-50C Roustabout cargo plane, the giant dedicated freighter beloved of the Stratarchy of Military Support and Logistics, and by every civilian transport company that’s ever had to face the problem of getting things to places fast on-planet.  It’s a giant, brutish, unbelievably massy monster of an aircraft that flies in the manner of a jet-powered brick, which is to say, by the sheer force of its eight engines.  But it can get more stuff to wherever it’s needed faster than just about anything else in the sky.  If you need, say, an entire prefabricated autofac complex dropped somewhere by the day after tomorrow, you call for these guys.
  • The Fireflash 220 semi-ballistic dart is the one commercial plane in the Imperial air fleet whose accommodations are as Spartan as, say, our typical business-class cabin, with added eight-point acceleration harnesses.  That’s because it’s the plane that takes you from one side of the planet to the diametric opposite side in under half an hour, which it does by being closer, in design, to an ICBM than an aircraft.  It takes off and makes a hard burn using its rocket engines, consuming its entire fuel load in just a few minutes.  The engines then cut out, and it goes purely ballistic up into sub-space, then re-enters the atmosphere, aerobrakes, and glides in for a landing on a suitably lengthy runway on the other side of the world no more than 20 minutes later.  (It’s also notorious as the only plane that needs to get landing clearance before it takes off, because once that engine burn happens, it’s committed – it’s either going to land at the place its ballistic course takes it to, or it’s going to crash there.  Most of them do provide a second runway within its extremely limited vector-change capability, but as for diverting to another airport… forget it.  Despite this, though, it has a great safety record.)
  • At the top end of the flying-wing club, one finds the variations on the theme of the S-1 Rennae superwing – a flying-wing, nuclear-engined aircraft several stories high, the size of a large building.  They can land and take off, but they almost never do unless there’s an emergency; they’re designed for in-flight maintenance, and as long as fuel pellets keep being ferried up to them, they don’t ever really need to land.  They’re mostly used as permanent but mobile airborne installations – the Emergency Management Authority owns a couple to use as mobile disaster headquarters that can orbit the site of the disaster and drop quick-response teams right on top of it, and unlike an airship, can get to it quickly, for example.  Another serves as a flying hotel/cruise liner.