Trope-a-Day: Military Mashup Machine

Military Mashup Machine: Oh, several.  Examining them by the categories of the original trope, we have:

Land Battleship: This one, actually, they don’t have.  Essentially, by the time it was practical to build this sort of thing, firstly, people who needed a heavy weight of fire on the ground were already in the habit of calling down the ortillery, either from the orbital defense grid or from an assault cruiser in low orbit over the battlespace – if they had orbital superiority.  And secondly, anything like this that you did build would be a giant radiating target for said ortillery – if you didn’t have orbital superiority.  Between them, these put paid to the notion of serious land battleships.

Submersible Carrier: Many wet navies have these, but they tend to be less the “plane-launching submarine” type and more submarines that can launch UAVs from missile tubes, control them for the duration of their mission, and then recover them at sea.  Which isn’t to say that the former haven’t existed, but the latter are usually rather more practical.

Amphibious Tanks: All tanks are amphibious tanks, pretty much by default.  By the time you’ve built a tank that can operate in all the various atmospheres, by composition and pressure, you might want it to (quick deployment and the needs of logistics sneer at air-breathing engines!) and incorporated the rest of the closed-cycle support you need to survive a modern battlefield in which nuclear, chemical, and nanoweapons are all in play, it pretty much shrugs off submergence, too.  You can pretty much drive a modern Imperial MBT from continent to continent across the ocean floor, although I can’t imagine why you’d want to.

(Incidentally, since a very large number of them have some vector-control capability and/or nuclear-thermal thrusters, they also arguably qualify as flying tanks – which usage, however, is a fast ticket to a court-martial, since playing flying games with something whose speed and maneuverability is very much not equal to dedicated air vehicles is a good way to win the Expert Pop-Up Target Award for your next instantiation.  It does, however, let you deploy your tanks with speed and convenience by kicking them out of the back of freight aircraft, and letting them ride their vectors to the ground.)

Amphibious Jet Fighter: Jet fighters, no, but we do have amphibious spacecraft – both certain shuttles common in orbital operations on worlds, water or otherwise, with extensive undersea development, and some types of system-defense vehicle whose ability to operate relatively deep in the atmospheres of gas giants – important to prevent enemy forces from field refueling, one way or another – permits operating in more terrestrial worlds’ oceans, which can be useful from time to time as a way to hide out and achieve surprise.

(It’s probable that gas-giant installation service vehicles and gas miners could also operate successfully in an oceanic environment, but there’d not be any point other than, well, saying that you’d done it.)

Mobile Factory: Even if you ignore the two hyperdreadnoughts with full on-board shipyards and the six Supremacies that act as semi-mobile bases for the fleets to coreward, rimward, spinward, trailing, acme and nadir, the Imperial Navy has to operate so often well outside reasonable resupply lines that it operates a large number of mobile logistics bases, large ships – with their own attached screens, parasite smelterships, etc. – which can be stationed anywhere to build new fuel, supplies, ammunition, and even AKVs to resupply task forces operating in their vicinity, using resources available locally.

And if we’re classifying the Cylon resurrection ships from Battlestar Galactica here, then we should also include the hospital ships – a historical designation – operated by large numbers of transsophont powers, which serve both as a well-protected place to keep the mind-state backup substrate, and also to house the large number of military-spec clone bodies used to resurrect anyone killed in action and send ’em back into the fray.

(If you manage to take one of these out, or even if you don’t, yes, this means that the number of bodies left floating around the battlefield afterwards bears no resemblance whatever to the number of people you actually managed to kill.  Assuming that you managed to kill anyone permanently, which – since most militaries that make use of this particular technology offer off-line backups back at base as a service benefit – is, frankly, doubtful.)

The Battlestar: Well, as mentioned above in the specific trope of that name, there are several battlecruiser classes that are designed like this, simply because the on-board AKV screen gives them much greater flexibility when they’re out running patrols and such on their own or in small flotillas, rather than being retained as fleet screening elements.

And then there are the fleet carriers which carry around entire task forces between those star systems not linked by stargates, when necessary.

Others: While these do a good job of describing the main variations, there are plenty of other weird vehicles hanging around in larger or smaller numbers: burrowing tanks for special siege applications;

The Pindareth-class aerospace-support cruiser, a flying Macross Missile Massacre whose whole design function is to dump entire holds’ worth of bundles of air-to-anything missiles into the battlespace from orbit, then designate targets for them once they hit operational altitude, intended to swarm and destroy entire air forces in one giant orgy of nucleonic destruction;

And, on the personal level, a number of gunsword designs which, yes, turned out to be pretty useless as guns and swords both, but which, after being corrected to not throw off the balance and forgetting about the projectile, work great for extracting your sword from someone if you should get it hung up on some resistant bit of innards.

Trope-a-Day: We Have Reserves

We Have Reserves: Heavily averted thanks to the quality-over-quantity philosophy of the Imperial Legions.  Even the most kill-crazy of the Empire’s historical generals (which is to say, the House of Sargas, for the most part) have been very determined indeed that the death should all, so far as is possible, happen on the other side, and very protective of the lives of their own men.  Of course, if it’s possible to deceive someone else on the enemy side, or even on a different enemy side, into being your reserves… well, that’s just shiny.  (See: Enemy Civil War).

(The people who have noted the disparity in quantity and tried this against the Empire have discovered that they thought of that: that’s what massive orbital bombardments and the Nuclear Option are for. It’s the only way to be sure.)

Trope-a-Day: Kill Sat

Kill Sat: Oh, yeah.  See also Death From Above and Wave Motion Gun, because there’s no artillery like ortillery, and no high ground like orbit.  The orbital defense grid (it defends orbit from above, it defends orbit from below, and, of course, it’s in orbit) that any self-respecting planet has is the stereotypical example, but should you need to carry out a ground assault on someone else’s planet, you’ll almost certainly carry a few of these along for orbital fire support.  And, yeah, they generally aren’t that much trouble to move around or fire repeatedly, so when one is around, it is generally not a good idea to stick your head out into the open, lest it find “Rods from God” or phased-array lasers raining down upon it.  Or, indeed, to approach the planet from space, lest you find them raining up upon it.

“Poor form to snipe your opponent from such a risk-free distance — generally the realm of villains”, indeed.  This is war, boy, not lawn darts!  They don’t give out points for fairness.

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: Death From Above

Death From Above: In space, all death planetside, or at least the delivered hot and steaming kind, is Death From Above.  When the going gets tough, the tough call for orbital fire support.  What else is orbital supremacy for, if not for plastering the fuck out of the enemy with ortillery and antimatter bombs before you have to go to all the trouble and expense and risk of ground combat?

Man, I love the smell of ambiplasma in the morning.

And then there’s the hunter-killer drones…

[A comment on a former posting of this trope read:

“Deep gravity wells with delicate ecologies inside them seem entirely too fragile and hard to defend against attacks and against disasters.  It seems to make more sense to keep them as parks, preserves, and vacation spots, while keeping your government, military, industry, and cities in lots and lots and lots of habs.”

This is true, so far as it goes – and, indeed is one of the major reasons why roughly 3/5ths of the Empire’s population (your polity may vary) does live in space, along with a much higher proportion of its industry (heat pollution and ecological fragility being the other half of that).  But also, to a certain extent – and when you have the rich energy budget to handle the gravity well – when you, as a responsible Galactic citizen, have to defend the garden worlds anyway because of their information-rich, unique ecologies, there’s not really much more of a downside from using them to live on, too.

On another side of things, taking up living extensively in habs, even with spin gravity, tends to cause various problems for most planet-evolved species.  The Empire and the rest of the rampaging transsophontist neophile faction have no problem with bioengineering those out; but not everyone is as comfortable rewriting their fundamental whateveranity.

]