Air Superiority Battalions

And I’m still not entirely clear on what Chris Moeller’s vision for the “Air Superiority” Battalion is. In a setting with highly maneuverable spacecraft capable of planetary bombardment, atmospheric aircraft fly too high to take cover amidst ground clutter but too low to get the drop on the space fleet. And with grav tank capable of going from the surface to the upper atmosphere on the one hand, and Hammer gunships capable of entering atmosphere on the other hand, the niche for an air superiority craft is eaten into from both sides.


It may be an unworkable idea, Syd. The thinking was to have a unit focusing on the long-range air dominance role of the grav-tank, rather than on the “tank” role. Grav-armor generally stays on the ground, rising above the terrain only to move strategically. If caught above the trees, it’s pretty clumsy and vulnerable. In an Air Superiority battalion, the grav-tanks would be designed primarily to operate above the trees, even in hostile territory, and to deny enemy grav-tanks (and anything else) the ability to move strategically… glueing them to the ground. Orbital firepower can do some of that, but human worlds attacked by the Vaylen are pretty much guaranteed to lose orbital dominance, so this is a stopgap measure for a force that can’t guarantee it’ll control orbit.

That was the thinking anyway.


If I were a ground commander trying to stave off an invader with overwhelming orbital superiority, I wouldn’t try to meet them head-on in the air. (That’s why theorists call a “symmetrical” response, like sending fighters to intercept enemy airplanes or tanks to stop blitzkrieging tanks). My high-altitude Anvil sleds would just get jumped from above and shot out of the sky by all the enemy Hammer overhead.

I’d rely instead on my ground-based artillery – my fusor and missile-armed SPAGs – firing and moving, firing and moving, and hiding as much as possible in the folds of the terrain, ideally enhanced with all sorts of tunnels and hide sites dug by my construction engineers beforehand. (This would be an “asymmetrical” response, like laying mines to stop enemy warships, emplacing roadside bombs against enemy armored vehicles, or relying on surface-to-air missiles against enemy aircraft). I’d use grav tanks, also operating at low altitude and from concealment, to deal with enemy landing forces that got dangerously close to my artillery. That way, instead of contesting aerospace control on terms inherently unfavorable to me, I’d cede the atmosphere to the enemy and exploit the thing I have which they don’t, namely ground cover.

So my solution to the world fearing a massive Vaylen invasion is lots of “fortress warrens” and self-propelled artillery batteries.

Okay, playing devil’s advocate here: Why not have both? Are hammer assets in orbit really so capable of totally dominating airspace? They’re stable firing platforms, and range isn’t an issue for their weapons, but they’re designed to find and hit targets in the middle of nothing. It seems to me that a little grav tank isn’t going to present much of a target to a warship miles overhead. Trying to lock onto and hit it as it skims over the planet’s surface. Orbital weaponry will be of supreme value in the artillery role… hitting static or very slow moving targets relentlessly, but against fast-moving individual targets, would they be so effective?

Again, I’m not wedded to this idea, but it’s good to toss thoughts around.


Space-based fighters are ill-suited to atmospheric dog fighting. They’re heavier and less aerodynamic than something custom-built for atmospheric flight. Grav AFVs, while possessing similar flight capabilities are also slower and have a bigger profile. As a commander, I’d want access to atmospheric fighter resources to rapidly interdict and destroy in-bound gun ships and drop ships in a fashion that grav AFVs can’t.

I’m certain that these fighter craft would be fragile, expensive and prone to bombardment and sabotage when at base, but I’d still want the option!

I’m sure there’s a niche for high-flying, high-performance aerospace craft (“fighters,” as much as Luke hates the concept) in parts of the Iron Empires. I’m not too concerned with building an “Air Superiority” unit TO&E at the moment because I think it’s a fairly specialized and rare function.

True, even a high-altitude aircraft will be harder to pick out against the background of a planet than a spacecraft against the background of the void. I just doubt the value of, in essence, going halfway up – that is, leaving the security of hugging the surface, but without going all the way up into space so you’re relatively free of gravity and atmospheric friction. A high-altitude atmospheric craft is never going to have the freedom of maneuver of a spacecraft nor the protective cover of a surface or near-surface vehicle. You could consider that a useful hybrid; I suspect it’d be an unhappy compromise.

I’m not too concerned with building an “Air Superiority” unit TO&E at the moment because I think it’s a fairly specialized and rare function.

That’s right, you have many more important TO&E duties to attend to Sydney. :slight_smile:

An aircraft/grav hybrid would be the nimblest shit imaginable. Like a harrier that can literally stop on a dime, drop and climb with reactionless drive… fuck it’s turn your internal organs to jelly. My point is that in a contest between one of those and a normal grav tank (or, yes, an invading troop ship), these grav-interceptor-tanks would be the kings. maybe it’s just too specialized a niche to spend hard-earned cash on, I don’t know. But you konw what they say…

There are millions of worlds in the Iron Empires, and, while some of them are going to have giant squid grav-tanks, others are going to have atmospheric-superiority forces. I agree that they’d be rare and have no idea what they’d look like in practise, or how they’d function in a war. My sense is that there’s a role for logistical and interdiction strikes deep inside enemy territory as well as harrassing resupply ships coming down from orbit to the enemy’s base area. Dunno.


how about high flying drones? robot wings with missiles? or would ground based Anti-air batteries just do the same thing?

The IE universe doesn’t seem to have many robotic weapons systems. That may seem unrealistic given the direction warfare appears to be taking now, but Ithink it’s a conscious choice by Chris Moeller to give us a story with recognizable human beings in it.

Yeah, it’s nimble – but nimbler than a Hammer craft overhead sitting at the top of the gravity well? More to the point, nimbler than a freakin’ laser beam?

Hammer warships can rely on the sheer vastness of space to avoid being hit. Even if you see them, a slight alteration in course can put them kilometers away from the course you predicted for them, in the microsecond interval between your firing your weapons and the weapons’ energy arriving at the target.
Anvil grav sleds can rely on the sheer clutter of planetary surfaces to avoid being hit. Even if you see them, they can duck under hard cover or put some obstacle between them and your weapon between the time you’ve registered their presence and pulled the trigger.
A high-altitude atmospheric vehicle seems to me to have the worst of both worlds. Still hampered in its maneuvers by significant gravity, still confined to a relatively small volume (the atmosphere), but not down low enough to really hide.

I think you’re giving a lot more credit to the hammer side than they deserve. You can see them coming for years. Plenty of time to get your aim just right.

Heh. Which is what you use your hardened & shielded Q-beam batteries for. And constantly redeploying self-propelled fusor and missile artillery, when the enemy Hammer gets into the atmosphere. And grav tanks, when the enemy gets too close to the ground. Atmospheric interceptors? Eh.

My comment wasn’t in defense of atmospheric fighters, just trying to put some perspective on the whole GOD HAMMER things.

I think militarily conquering a planet is a lot more complicated than we imagine.

Those Air Superiority Battalions might be extremely handy depending on the circumstances.
What keeps them from being kings of the battlefield? Hammer.
Therefore those Battalions will be prominent on planets where there are traditionally few hammer forces or on planets where hammer is useless, for example certain atmospheric conditions might visually shield the planet surface from observers outside of the atmosphere. Or the planet might feature lots of deep canyons and is made up of strange materials that jinx sensors.

I recommend renaming the Air Superiority Battalion as an “Attack Battalion” with the Anvil Attack Sled from BE. The analog here are attack helicopter units that work in direct support of other units.

The idea is to attack the enemy from as many directions as possible, in coordination. My artillery causes units to drop to avoid targeting, so the attack sleds can scream in and target the most dangerous units, ie grav tanks (that is their true strength-accurate targeting), while my grav tanks get into position to gain direct fire dominance, and shoot my infantry assault in. That is what we call combined arms–hard to do, beautiful (in a disturbing way) when it works.

Attack units would also be really useful against your enemy’s Hussar units, striking on your flanks, or going deep, but your Anvil Lord is going to get the most out of them in close, coordinated, support. (Needless to say, the attack sled johnnies hate to hear this!)

Given their vulnerability when not on an attack run and necessary support, Attack Battalions would be relatively rare, but an enterprising Anvil Lord might scare up a platoon or two.

And, if the argument for artillery platoons in every company is that Hammer won’t be overhead all the time, then we can’t argue against attack units with the idea that Hammer will be overhead all the time!!

I’m sold. Attack Battalion. Sweet.


Ah, Lance, you’ve sold me. This is a concept I can get behind: not an attempt to meet incoming Hammer head-to-head on unfavorable terms, but a way for Anvil to do long-range, high-speed, high-altitude strike on its own resources when Hammer’s not around.

The attack helicopter analogy’s especially apt, since attack helicopters are what the US Army invests in to have its own strike aircraft around when it can’t rely on the Air Force.

Here’s a sketch of an Attack Company; I leave it to the master to expand!

Attack Company (34 personnel, 10 Anvil Attack Sleds, 9 Grav Utility Sleds)

Headquarters (8)
Anvil Captain
2 Signals Techs
2 Runners
Anvil Attack Sled
Grav Utility Sled
(Grav Utility Sled serves as command post, either Captain or X-O flies the Attack Sled.)

3 Attack Platoons (9)
Platoon Leader
2 Pilots
3 Anvil Attack Sleds
(Typically only the Platoon Leader is a Lord-Pilot, his Corvus and Crucis make his sled far more deadly, the other two pilots fly cover for him.)

Maintenance Section (12)
Maintenance Chief
3 Crew Chiefs
8 Machinists
4 Armorers
4 Grav Utility Sleds
(One sled with 1 Crew Chief, 2 machinists, and one armorer per platoon + company headquarters.)

Mess Section (5)
Mess Sergeant
4 Orderlies
4 Grav Utility Sleds
(As the Attack Sleds don’t carry a lot of gear, the Attack Company sets up its Mess, billeting and food service, when in the field–riotous places, always have a bar.)

(Typically only the Platoon Leader is a Lord-Pilot, his Corvus and Crucis make his sled far more deadly, the other two pilots fly cover for him.)


I don’t think anyone was advocating them for taking on Hammer.

Outside of opposing Hammer, I imagine the best strategy for dealing with enemy Hammer would be to build a bunch of kinetic interceptors when you spot them coming toward you.

On a world with a more substantial tech index, you could get fancy and build torch missiles.

I love this detail.