This is the first – in what turns out will be several – posts on the Imperial Legions, how they’re equipped and how they work in practice.
But before getting into the details of how the Imperial Legions are equipped, it’s important to understand what they are. The Legions are a force optimized for heavy striking and raiding – ideally, to jump in, sucker-punch the enemy, and bug out again – rather than to hold ground, or to act as occupying forces (much more analogous to the Marines than the Army, in other words). They are trained to excel at local strongpoint defense, but that’s a separate issue from trying to occupy or hold large areas.
This is for three reasons:
- In the minds of everyone but the very-minority Imperium Bellipotent, and some of its political allies, the Empire is out of the conquering business, and has been for a very long time. Mass forcible conquests are out of fashion, seeing as they don’t work very well, and very unlikely to ever come back into fashion. The Empire is very firm on not wanting anyone in it who doesn’t want to be there.
- When planning to occupy lots of ground, it helps to have lots of quantity. The Empire has rarely had that advantage, and so prefers to optimize its military forces for quality – and picks a strategic posture that works well for having the best, not necessarily the most, troops. (Also, for that matter, the kaeth – of whom there are many in the Legions – are temperamentally very unsuited for occupation duties, since they get bored really, really fast if no-one’s putting up a proper fight. And no-one wants them going out and looking for someone who’ll give them one…)
- Mass interplanetary warfare is, in any case, impractical in the extreme. It takes a ridiculously large number of troops to keep your boot firmly on the neck of an entire planet, up close and personal-like, and while you can build a fleet of troop transports fit to blacken the sky, etc., etc., if you don’t wreck your economy and bankrupt yourself doing so, you’ll certainly spend far, far more than you could ever possibly gain by doing it. This is a move generally reserved for the less sane members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms, like the lovely space-fascists of the Iltine Union.
(In practice, I say aside, the Empire makes up for this doctrinal deficiency on the rare occasions – nth-generational future-warfare is usually long past the requirement for, as well as the habit of, mass warfare – it’s required to in one of two ways:
First up, and preferably, the practice of nexus warfare combined with orbital supremacy. This is one of the reasons the Legions are trained to excel at local strongpoint defense; because on any halfway civilized world/habitat, when you’ve got them by the data network, and the power grid, and the transportation hubs, and on many planets the life support, their hearts and minds tend to follow. This is then backed up by the Navy sitting in orbit ready to drop some KEWs on anyone who causes too much trouble. And together, these keep things stable long enough for concessions to be extracted or for the meme-wranglers to do their work.
Second, on the less friendly side reserved for the extreme cases, orbital supremacy combined with ruthlessness. If you’re fighting people who aren’t civilized, unlikely to become civilized, and likely to go on causing trouble, it’s time to dig out the old C/C strategy –Containment/Curtailment.
The former covers, after achieving orbital supremacy and dropping a few raids to take out possible countermeasures and existing facilities, placing a whole mess of interdiction satellites in orbit and a picket to supervise them, with instructions to shoot up anything that looks like a launch facility and shoot down anything they manage to launch anyway. Conquering and civilizing them may be out (which it almost certainly was anyway – see the Hopeless War trope, when its turn comes up for posting), but at least you can guarantee that whatever they’re going to do, at least they’re only going to be doing it to each other. And it’s a damn sight cheaper in money as well as blood than trying to occupy the place would be.
The latter covers that, well, once you have orbital supremacy, you do always have the option of shelling the planet back into the Stone Age with your KEWs. (You can actually do a lot worse, obviously, but that would violate a dozen or so solemn treaties on the Proper Treatment of Garden Worlds.) And in particularly intransigent cases, exercising this option and trusting that the civilization of the descendants of the survivors won’t be quite such a bunch of egregious assholes next time sometimes does look like the best solution.
In the event that neither of these actually works in a given situation and they absolutely have to run an occupation – something that has not yet occurred – the Board of Admiralty’s wargamed-and-filed plan is to take along a couple of nanofactories, have them churn out cheap automated milspec police-drones by the million, and put them in charge of the routine matters. They don’t get bored, it’s never personal for them, and people care a lot less that a hunk of non-sophont combat electronics just got blown up by an IED. It’s also rather discouraging for the opposition. No resistance/revolutionary movement was ever inspired by “Happy news, comrades! We finally made the hated Imperials equipment losses rise out of the statistical noise! Er, locally, at least.”)
(The other reason, aside again, for the local strongpoint defense training is on defense against large invasions, in which they are intended to hold strongpoints in the defense-in-depth battlespace, providing stiffening for the Home Guard, who act as raiding companies and partisans; against small ones, they counter-raid.)
But, exceptional and theoretical digressions aside, the Emperors’ Sword is built on speed, maneuver, force, and cunning. Pick your target, strike hard, strike fast, subvert, shock, disrupt, hit ‘em right in the vulnerable spot, and don’t get pinned down doing it or try to hold anything that’ll only slow you down. Then get out, regroup, resupply, and do it again. Repeat until you’ve won.
And so they equip accordingly.