The Emperor’s Sword: Heavy Infantry

“Heavies! What is your profession?”

“Bein’ the chewy meat center in a vanadium-plated god of war, SIR!!”

– apocryphal

Making up three of every sixteen legions (i.e., one for every three light infantry legions) – again, not counting the various specialized legions built off a heavy infantry platform – are the heavy infantry legions. They’re the tip of the spear, the claw on the paw, the hard-strikin’ leading edge of the attack – if the light infantry are the backbone of the Imperial Legions, one might say that the heavy infantry is the bloody great horn on the end that the animal’s charge rams into its enemy with great force and vigor. But the important thing to understand about the heavy legionaries is the nature of their combat environment, and how it makes them infantry – at least partially – by courtesy alone. They’re not just big, tough legionaries in armor; the light infantry have that covered.

So let’s talk about the M70 Havoc combat exoskeleton, the current standard wear of the Heavy Legions. (Which is a combat exoskeleton because it’s descended from a long line of ancestors including, up front, civilian models used for construction, rescue, and so forth. It’s also fully-sealed powered armor, but then, so’s the N45 Garrex.)

Well, it’s big. It looks like a giant, stocky, barrel-bodied, dome-headed, no-necked humanoid with a back-sized hump, with weapons to match strapped to it. (And sort of as if it might overbalance backwards; it won’t, the gearing is much better than that and the armor is heavier in front to counterbalance, but the size of the powerplant and the auxiliary systems it’s carrying back there do create that impression, somewhat.) What it is, is basically a walking tank with interchangeable modular heavy-weapon packs that let it blast away on the battlefield, punch out small buildings, throw respectably-sized vehicles, dance a merry jig amid venting plasma, and toss around nuclear grenades at close range.

Size

If you take your nominal average wearer as being, oh, 7′ x 2′ x 1′, then while light infantry armor makes ’em bigger, it doesn’t make ’em so much bigger that they can no longer fit through doors, and so forth. The Havoc, contrariwise, makes its wearer more like 12′ x 4′ x 4′, and weighing something close to, maybe even on the far side of, a ton. There’s a reason military bases aren’t built to normal scale, and indeed, why you usually use the light infantry if you need to do the kind of building-clearing where it’s important that you’re left with an intact building afterward. Chap in a Havoc runs into your average suburban house hereabouts, he comes out the other side without noticing much of a stop, and it basically implodes. So it goes.

Operator

The wearer/operator goes in the front. The whole body opens up at the front, hydraulically, forward and up; the legionary climbs in backwards, then sticks his head up into the helmet and arms into the sleeves; then it closes again. The sleeves are internal to the body, not inside the arms of the suit; you can’t wear a suit that much bigger than you without risking tearing your arms off with every maneuver. Technically, when you’re fighting in a Havoc, you’re doing so with your arms at your sides, slightly bent, resting on the emergency hand controllers and keypads.

Those are only for emergency backup control, though. For primary control – if you’re wearing the suit right, the command torc built into the base of the helmet is resting right up against the back of your neck and the virtuality laser-port they installed in there, if you didn’t have one already, about halfway through basic, and has already established a high-bandwidth data connection with your brain. The moment you go active, you’re no longer wearing the suit and moving it about like a marionette; you are the suit, and moving it like your own body.

(Given its radically different capabilities, of course, this can be tricky to learn. That’s why they spend months teaching you Piston-Driven Fist Style martial arts, designed for these things, before letting you get anywhere near a combat exoskeleton for real; it’s also why an active-service heavy legionary is easy to spot on the street, because his gait will always be that little bit off.)

What they’re wearing in there is a very similar silk organza-type body glove to the one worn under regular combat armor; and exactly like its counterpart, it’s woven through with internal networking and environmental control and medical systems, capable of self-sealing, closing wounds, dispensing emergency pharmaceuticals, and covering everything in NBCN decontamination foam if penetrations are detected. The main difference here is that it can get hot in there; the Havoc bodysuit includes sweat-removal facilities (which filter water removed for the drinking reservoir) and Peltier cooling, run off the main power systems. This, and the legionary wearing it, fit tightly into the suit’s internal gel-filled padded sleeve that cushions them against acceleration and shock.

Power

Naturally, all of this uses a lot of power. A lot of power. This is buffered through distributed superconducting-loop accumulators throughout the exoskeleton, but while they do provide enough power to let you keep moving for a while if you lose the main power plant, they aren’t really enough to actually fight it. For that, you need something that can generate the necessary power.

Ordinarily, they might solve that problem with an antimatter (except that’s not good stuff to keep around where people might be shooting at it) or fusion reactor (except they involve lots of auxiliary machinery to keep the reaction sustained, which also makes it stop working fairly readily when people shoot at it). To bypass those problems, they reached back a little in history, and what’s under the small of this suit’s back is a good old-fashioned micro-fission reactor, of the thorium molten-salt design (which is to say, tasty “hot soup”). This is much more resilient under fire – although if someone does manage to penetrate the armor and crack the flask, it does have the minor disadvantage of spraying highly radioactive heavy-metal fluoride vapor over the landscape. But you can’t have everything.

Sensors and Communications

Core sensors and communications are essentially identical to light-legionary combat armor; radio and whisker laser communications, access to the OTP-encrypted military mesh, threat identification systems, teamware and C3I systems integration, thermal imaging, remote sensor access, 360 degree sensing, etc., etc. It also incorporates the sound transmission and imaging systems, which are even more important in the case of the Havoc, since its “helmet” is a sealed armor-dome with no direct vision possible; all internal displays are produced by the battle computer. The internal computer is rather more powerful than that included in, say, the N45 Garrex, both to run the more complicated systems and to act as a more major node in the battle ‘mesh.

On top of this, the Havoc adds pulsed-usage radar and lidar systems, plus integral T-ray high-frequency snoopers, powered by its greater reactor capacity, and a full ECM suite.

Structure, Strength and Armor

In construction terms, outside the padded sleeve is the diamondoid-composite skeleton of the suit, a honeycomb-patterned framework to provide the basic structural strength of the armor. This includes the attachment points and channels for the “muscles” – pseudo-organic structures capable of changing length on electrical signal – which power the suit. (In conjunction, yes, with the stabilization gyros.) They’re calibrated for high strength, speed, and flexibility; a Havoc is designed to let its wearer run at 54 mph and lift over a ton within safe tolerances – while still being able to dance a jig and pick up an egg without breaking it.

This skeleton is environmentally sealed and environment-controlled, for NBCN protection and exotic atmosphere/vacuum use, able to withstand and operate within several hundred atmospheres of pressure and extreme temperatures. Also at this level, all the working portions of suit equipment (computers, sensors, life support, medical support, power distribution, etc.) are located and secured in place. All of these systems are spread out throughout the skeleton, constructed from highly redundant circuitry with automatic re-routing, so that even with heavy damage, it can still function. It also includes mounting voids for heavier subsystems, such as the power reactor, external hives, and modular weapons pack.

The armor on top of this is qualitatively similar to light infantry armor – a sandwich of interlinked, highly corrosion-resistant and refractory cerametal composite armor plates around electrical and thermal superconductor meshes, with an outer anti-energetic ablative layer sprayed atop it. There’s just a lot more of it, quantitatively speaking, in thick, overlapping slabs. Likewise, the Havoc comes with rather more kinetic barrier emitters than light legionary armor, and thanks to its thorium reactor, has a lot more power available to back them up with. Finally, some portions of the armor include reactive sections, capable of exploding outward to neutralize force from external explosions or impacting projectiles (or, occasionally, long drops), in deference to the fact that large anti-materiel weapons are fired at heavy legionaries with depressing regularity.

There are, generally, no chameleonic or “stealth” features included – and the heavy legionary exoskeleton does not come in any “scout” variants – since the thermal – heat has to be radiated! –  et. al., signature produced by the reactor and other exoskeletal systems are more than enough to vitiate attempts at stealth. On the other hand, it is equipped with the abovementioned ECM and signature-scrambling systems to confuse incoming guided missiles out of perfect target locks.

Flight

The Havoc can also fly, at up to several hundred mph depending on local conditions, using a combination of the same vector-control trickery used in standard combat armor, and of using its power reactor to provide the working heat to nuclear-thermal thrusters. (This is normally only an option in atmosphere, which functions as the supply of working fluid; in vacuum, it requires carting a big clip-on tank of remass around with you, which is less than convenient most of the time.) As in the former case, using this for extended flight is discouraged since it makes you an easy kill for air vehicles; on the other hand, it’s great for attaining position, making short skips, and so forth, not to mention extended low ground-skims. Attempting combat parkour with it is possible, but do bear in mind the strength of whatever it is you plan to bounce off of in the process; smashing right through it is often tactically awkward in combat situations.

Integral Weapons & Point Defense

In addition to weapons supplied by the modular pack, the Havoc possesses four integral weapons systems. Two of these are inbuilt to the arms of the suit: on the right, a heavy carbine equivalent to a tribarrel version of the IL-15i Battlesystem‘s carbine section, for routine anti-personnel and light anti-materiel use, and on the left, the KF-15 Dragonspume anti-nanitic/area-denial flamer, serving essentially the same purposes as they do for the light legionary only more so. The EI-12d Valkyrie target designator is built into the helmet section of the Havoc, for use in designating targets for the tactical net and ortillery, etc.

The fourth is a collection of defensive weaponry: each shoulder bears a point-defense pack, consisting of a pair of short-range lasers (designed to cause spontaneous explosion or vaporization-induced deflection) and a pair of short-range autocannon, independently and automatically targeting incoming fire for destruction.

The Havoc also carries an exoskeleton combat knife, which resembles a large hanrian – too heavy for unaugmented sophonts to use – scaled to the exoskeleton, which can be picked up and wielded by its manipulators for use primarily as a utility blade, although melee combat usage isn’t entirely unknown.

Swarms and their Hives

The Havoc also comes with swarm hives, both internal and external, housing microbot/nanobot swarms. The internal hive(s) are integrated into the structural honeycomb, housing repair and medical ‘bots whose purpose is to crawl around the interior of the suit ensuring that it self-repairs, and even more importantly, it keeps its operator in good repair.

The external hives, on the other hand, are a reflection of the Legions’ belief in really close air support. The exact mix can be varied by pre-mission module swap-outs, but a typical default mix for the external hives (the M-823 Horde) is a roughly equal mix of eyeballs, shrikes, gremlins, and balefire – which is to say, of expendable recon assets, counter-swarm swarms, anti-machinery swarms, and anti-personnel/area-denial carbon-devourer swarms.

Modular Weapons Pack

The primary weapons of the heavy legionary, however, are those supplied by the modular weapons pack: again, selected according to mission. The modular weapons pack fits onto the upper rear of the exoskeleton, beneath the armor and behind the helmet, with hardened lines running to extended firing packages which clamp onto the suit’s arms. A typical “mixed-mission” modular weapons pack would be the BP-400 Conflagration, which adds to the integrated loadout the following:

  • An arm-mounted heavy tribarrel sluggun, a larger-bore version of that included in the IL-15i Battlesystem, capable of firing larger (1.5″) versions of all its different ammo types: anti-materiel spikes, flechette canister shot, bore-compatible grenades, or gyroc micromissiles, the latter of which can include as their payload exploding shells, incendiaries and napalm, cryoburn shells, nanoweapons (if someone’s set up a microwave power system for them), chemical/gas dispensers, cyberswarm dispensers, network node – or spy dust – dispensers, injector needles (at low power), restraint nanoglop, electroshock “stunner” shells, acid globs, anti-electronic fiberdust, mollynet, antimatter nuke-in-a-bullets, etc., etc. Naturally, the weapons pack can store plentiful supplies of multiple types, and switch between them on the fly. (One that they’re particularly fond of is the infamous “backscratcher”, which travels a short distance and then blasts flechettes back down at the firer, rattling harmlessly off the heavy armor but making a real mess out of any lighter infantry trying to attack it close up.)
  • A chemical/nanoweapons dispensing system, with storage tanks for same.
  • A backpack vertical-launch system for a half-dozen minimissiles, usually supplied with 0.1 kt microfusion warheads.

Drones

Like the light legionary, the heavy legionary is accompanied by and acting as the command nexus for a half-dozen AI combat drones, in this case usually mixed from the WMH-4 Octoscorp, the WMH-7 Grizzly, and the WMH-12 Skyorca, depending on mission parameters, each heavily armed in its own right. When not commanded otherwise, these too default to acting as defense platforms – but the best defense is a good offense, right?

Transportation?

Like the light infantry, the heavy infantry is usually delivered to the field by the G5-TT Corvee tactical transport, fulfilling its multipurpose role. The module used for heavy legionary transport, however, is somewhat different – it’s an open frame, and the legionaries ride on the outside, held in by suit-controlled magnetic clamps, the Havoc already being heavily armored enough. The weight savings permit systems to let them refuel and rearm in flight to be added instead of all that wasteful hull.

They don’t generally use IFVs/APCs to get around on the battlefield. A platform like this doesn’t need ’em.

“I’M THE JUGGERNAUT!!!”

– rookie heavy-legionary

“Heh. Heheheheh. Here’s a taltis, kid…”

– commander of Basher-class heavy armored vehicle

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…

Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor

Just throwing in, now it’s not on my nonexistent regular blog, a plug for the blog Women Fighters In Reasonable Armor, of which I approve thoroughly in the interest of not making my suspension of disbelief hurt any more than it does already when reading Generic Fantasy or other genres that really ought to know better.

(Speaking for my own universe, there are more than enough layers, in between the fabric jacket, the tech compartments, the cerametal-composite armor-plating, the superconductor meshes, and the ablative layer sprayed over the top of all of that, to make telling the gender of anyone wearing the entire-body-enclosing standard-legionary-issue N45 Garrex field combat armor or its cousins damn near impossible unless they’ve got their equally-all-enclosing helmet off, which is never done under combat conditions. But then, that’s a design feature – you’re not supposed to see a person, you’re supposed to see one mean bastard of a legionary who may just be about to ruin your whole day. The key words here are studied memetic overkill.

As for its big brother, the M70 Havoc combat exoskeleton – well, considering that piece of armor is a couple of tons of personal mini-tank that lets you punch out buildings and survive getting in a nuclear-bazooka fight at implausibly close ranges, frankly, you’re lucky to be able to tell what species the wearer is. At least without the sort of prolonged study no-one’s ever been inclined to do when there’s an occupied M70 wandering around the vicinity.)