War in the Future! - Anvil Discussion

Sydney and I and some others tend to end up discussing military theory and extrapolating about the future in a bunch of threads that shouldn’t necessarily be cluttered up with it. So here’s a thread for us to discuss all the nitty gritty details of force compositions, line of sight weaponry, ELINT, and all that good stuff. I’ll post my views when I get home from work.

I think it’s curious and maybe an odd artifact of the system that the jump from low to high index tech only nets you an additional potential +1D or +1Ob in most tech burner applications. Except for the jump to psychotechnology at high index, are there really any significant breakthroughs?

A couple random thoughts on High Index warfare tech:

I see that High Index brings us forcefields, but in actual play that seems like it’s just color to explain, for example, why my soldiers cause a +3Ob vs. Close Combat while the low-index version gives a +2Ob with a non-forcefield explanation (angry buzzing nanite clouds?).

Are the AI caps higher at high index? I don’t remember. I was thinking about Rogue Trooper, that old 2000AD strip with the blue-skinned soldier whose gear was equipped with chatty AI (all of which bickered with each other). IIRC they were uploaded personalities of deceased soldiers or some such thing. But anyway…would cheap/ubiquitous AI be mere color (bonus dice to Tactics, Command, Infiltration) or a battlefield-changing factor?

p.

In terms of canon, the Iron Empires only move into high tech stuff in the Karsan League. Force fields would be truly exotic tech, even there. AI’s I’m not so sure about. The idea of Bolo/Ogre-like tanks driving around, guided by intelligent machine minds is something that the Iron Empires would view with horror (like robots). But the idea of smart subsystems “helping” with sensor analysis and that kind of thing… that’s cool.

I guess I have to wonder, why didn’t the Karsan League just crush everything in its wake?

Chris, what other implications of High v. Low tech indices do you see?

Luke has sketched out just the tiniest hints of stuff that’s supposed to exist at High: FTL communication (nice LeGuin reference), ‘matter converters’ (what are the practical implications?), transhuman biomodifications (I’m assuming the Alien Life Form Burner handles this), micro-blackhole reactors (just a greater power supply?), and, of course, psychology-enhancing/restricting stuff. What else might you add to the list, particularly as it pertains to waging war?

p.

Karsan league is focussed on the real threat, the worms. They don’t have the time or energy to waste on wars of expansion, where any conquest means loss of resources and a greater territory to defend. They’ve kept their higher tech index partly, as I understand it, by not squandering it on civil wars. They don’t make hammer cruisers like they used to, so when a high index karsan ship gets shot down supporting an assault on a human world, it’s a pure loss for humanity and gain for the vaylen.

Not to mention the limitations of the iron empire’s FTL drive makes wars of conquest very, very difficult. Communications lag is so high that scouting is of limited value and re-enforcement is all but impossible. You need to take everything you need for the entire invasion you. In very real terms, invasion has very little profit… unless you are vaylen, and count your profit in frightened human bodies.

I’m principally interested in ground combat. Sydney and I were having a debate about the proper employment of grav sleds. Personally, I feel like they would be used pretty much like modern armour… advancing screened by infantry and staying low to the ground. Unless the sleds in the book are not representative of the heavier combat sleds, these vehicles are very vulnerable to man-portable weapons… so much so that I can’t really ever see them leaving nap of the earth flight. They would need to stay very close to the ground, probably within a few feet, in order to protect themselves from long ranged line of sight weaponry that strike at the speed of light. Your speed and maneuverability can’t protect you from lasers, and a heavy laser can gut most armoured vehicles without too much trouble. If you rise above the horizon, you will be seen. And if you are seen, you will be hit. Low and slow is the name of the game… use Anvil assets to drive enemy infantry with their MPIMLs and Heavy Lasers out of their positions, and then smash them with indirect fire from the armour.

This is, interestingly enough, not a job ideally suited to Iron. Yes, Iron is the best protection a man can wear, but given its cost and the fact that any mook with a laser rifle can blow a Lord Pilot-Anvil’s brains out, Iron isn’t terribly good in engagements against infantry. What Iron IS good at is resiting vehicular scale weaponry. While Anvil armour goes gush when hit by a PaC, Iron will simply shrug it off better than many vehicles. Which means that your Iron Pilot can take on tank battalions with nary a fear, but ought to run from a motor rifle regiment =)

Paul, the Karsan League is more unified than the other nations, because, as Mike rightly says, it was basically founded in resistance to the Vaylen. It’s the one empire that retains and encourages scientific advances. It welcomes psychology for the same reason. The other empires have the luxury to be suspicious of the Karsan emphasis on the Vaylen threat. They are “sorcerers” and “cold and calculating”. The FTL communications Luke mentions are called precipitators. These are old, old tech that allow objects to be distroyed and reassembled over infinite (literally) distances. The reassembled version of the object returns to its original point after a random interval of time (think of Frank Pohl’s HeeChee machines… if I’m remembering it right, he introduced technology like that… it’s been a long time…). The capital worlds of the old Federation had these things to send messages (and also warships called Jump Ships) over long distances. FTL torpedoes can be precipitated to any point in the galaxy, transmit their message, and return with an answer. Precipitators are tremendously valuable obviously. Nobody knows how many exist or where they’re located (these are state secrets of the highest priority). There is at least one somewhere near the capital worlds of all of the Iron Empires (“near” means within a short hop… all precipitators are in deep space… well outside of systems).

Mike, the IFV’s in Faith Conquers are the equivalent of our own IFV’s (and not the top of the line either). They aren’t designed to take tank-hits. Armor, when deployed into a fighting situation, would very much be limited to hugging the ground (particularly if orbit is in enemy hands). But their big advantage is when they’re not deployed… in reserve they can move at incredible speed from one front to another (even into orbit). Your thoughts about Iron are good. Going back to our medieval model, Iron Pilots are European knights in heavy armor. Very strong in their own element, hitting hard and able to absorb punishment. But they are vulnerable to swarms of light troops (English archers, mongols, arab horsemen, etc…).

Chris

Chris, I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read Faith Conquers yet, only Sheva’s War. I’ve been LOOKING for Faith, but can’t find it.

I was basing my analysis off of the stats in the Tech Burner, assuming an Assault Sled was a heavyish AFV…

I was also assuming that the general degeneration of technology was so widespread that Anvil Lords would want to conserve the lifespan of their grav-vehicles… I could see grav-tanks being towed into combat by large beasts of burden =) Or at the very least carried by train or boat.

I’ve been LOOKING for Faith, but can’t find it.

Come here brother, let me bathe you in the fire of Ahmilahk…

In the age of online retailing, no one can hear you scream:

http://www.amazon.com/Iron-Empires-Faith-Conquers/dp/1593070152/sr=8-1/qid=1171582117/ref=sr_1_1/102-4734102-8458524?ie=UTF8&s=books

They can if you live in an apartment building with a history of mail theft =P

I found a copy and am picking it up tomorrow.

I was actually thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if grav sleds took 500 hours of maintenance for every hour in the air? It would actually be almost faster to transport them by oxcart… and much cheaper =)

Go back to Fading Suns! (I mean, I love FS with all my heart. But if you need a grav tank on an ox cart, that’s where it belongs. Guarded by men with axes and lasers.) The Iron Empires seem to have a bit more scale to them, so one grav tank won’t turn a whole battle by itself, which makes ox-cart transport inefficient. Re-tune the engines so it flies half as fast but takes a tenth the maintenance and then let it fly there. Two days in the shop is a lot better than five days on the cart possibly getting ambushed and stolen by bandits.

I suspect the maintenance schedules are really somewhere more like modern tanks or fighters, though.

I’m thinking it’s worse than modern stuff, but not as bad as I make it out to be.

And for the record, modern tanks get carried to the front lines on trucks and trains. =P

Most of the tech that’s running in the IE at this point is idiot proof (all of the really quirky stuff that is too technical to run died out long ago). Construction Guilds can still make grav-tanks, starship drives, fusion reactors, etc… but most of them are doing it by rote at this point… slavishly following the “fusion reactor recipe” that their grandfather’s grandfather handed down to them. Innovation comes from combining existing technologies creatively and mastering the technologies that they do know.

Of course, on low-tech planets without much access to off-world talent, even the idiot proof stuff will break down eventually.

-Chris

PS - Grav tanks do not have to be carried on 18-wheelers in the IE. That’s their reason for being… very high mobility to the battlefield, then NOE for combat operations. In fact, they double as orbital insertion craft since they can drop right out of the assault ships and fly down to earth (taking fire, obviously, so it’s not always the right move). The equivilent of Starship Troopers for the armor (Starship Tankers?).

The prequel scene for my group’s nascent Fire and Ice campaign involved a Vaylen smuggler ship breaking its flight plan to dip into radar shadow between two mountains, drop the back ramp in flight, and disgorge grav sleds carrying infiltration teams. Like a C-130 dropping light armored vehicles via parachute, only without the parachute.

Mike, I think you’re gravely underestimating the importance of maneuver relative to combat. Certainly, if I’m advancing into the teeth of enemy defenses, I’m going to bring my grav sleds down to a few meters above ground, dismount all my infantry, and advance at walking pace, or in short bounds of 10-50 meters at a time, so we can check every position for a potential ambush before we move into it.

But I’m not going to advance into the teeth of the enemy defenses if I don’t have to – and if I can fly nap-of-the-earth at 200 kmh, I usually won’t have to. I’ll figure out the enemy’s rough disposition with light scout forces, then have the grav armor blow through a weak point, or bypass the defenses altogether, at high speed. Unless I screwed up my reconaissance (always possible!) and flew straight into a prepared ambush site, the odds are any enemy position I do come in range of won’t have time to engage me effectively, not if I’m taking advantage of the terrain to cover me and blowing through any open areas at 200+ kmh.

What I’m describing is basically blitzkrieg tank tactics from World War II, only with a higher rate of speed to offset much more lethal weaponry: the faster I move, the less time I spend exposed to a given enemy weapon system. (MGEN Robert Scales has an entire theory of warfare based on this principle.) It’s crucial to understand that the function of the tank in maneuver warfare is not to grind enemy strongpoints into dust: That’s what infantry and, especially artillery are for, because infantry can take cover much better than a tank and artillery can fire from a (relatively) safe distance. Tanks are in fact remarkably fragile on the battlefield. Tanks are the arm of mobile decision, functionally equivalent to the old horse cavalry: The tanks’ job is to move around and between enemy strongpoints.

Think of a defensive line as a series of circles, each centered on an enemy position, the radius of each circle equal to the effective range of that position’s weapons, the area of the circle representing the deadly ground around that position. Here’s the catch: The better armored your force is (or the more stealthy), the smaller those circles become. It’s very easy for the enemy to present an effectively unbroken line to horse cavalry, because horses are big, unarmored targets and as such terribly vulnerable to machinegun fire, so the effective lethal radius of each enemy position is equal to the maximum range of its machineguns. But against armored vehicles, machineguns are (almost always) ineffective: The circles represented by machinegun positions effectively vanish, ordinary infantry has a lethal radius confined to its ability to mob the tank with high explosive, and the only circles that matter are those centered around heavy weapons like rocket launchers and artillery pieces – potentially creating enormous holes in the defensive line.

In brief, an armored vehicle’s ability to maneuver is not merely about getting its armor and weapons in a position to fight. Quite the contrary: the armor and weapons exist primarily to enable the vehicle to maneuver around or through the enemy without getting drawn into a fight.

I don’t think I am underestimating the value of manouver, Sydney. Grand tactical and operational maneuvering are vitally important. I’m certainly not going to argue that. And when advancing through friendly zones, I can certainly understand the value of a high strategic speed. Admittedly, I’ve always been somewhat skeptical of the claims made of blitzkrieg when used against another mechanized force (hard to penetrate and encircle an opponent who can retreat faster than you can advance) but that’s neither here nor there. In my opinion, the emphasis on manouver was one of the great weaknesses of the Allied armies in France. By that time, both the Soviets and Germans were designing their tanks to fight, not to break-through and ravage the enemy’s rear areas, like the Sherman. This is one of the reasons the Sherman tended to be outclassed by its German opponants

A grav tank operating at high speed and not hugging the ground as close as possible is no longer really a tank. It’s more of a very large, heavily armoured helecopter. Given that the grav vehicles are still horrifically vulnerable to hand-held weapons, I worry that should they maneuver at speed and above an altitude of a few meters, they would repeat the experiences of soviet helicopter pilots in afghanistan… an afghanistan where every infantry squad has the equivalent of of a few stingers. I agree with you; tanks are extremely fragile… that’s why you want them hidden as much as possible, not flying about in the air. If you do attempt to rupture an intelligent anvil lord’s lines with a high velocity grav-sled column, I guarantee he will block your thrust with a mechanized reserve that is just as mobile as your flying column, but that has a much shorter distance to cover. They will laeger their vehicles on the reverse slope of a hill, set up their heavy lasers with good vantage points, and the first you’ll know of their existence is when your tanks start brewing up.

Tanks are the arm of mobile decision, functionally equivalent to the old horse cavalry: The tanks’ job is to move around and between enemy strongpoints.

Think of a defensive line as a series of circles, each centered on an enemy position, the radius of each circle equal to the effective range of that position’s weapons, the area of the circle representing the deadly ground around that position. Here’s the catch: The better armored your force is (or the more stealthy), the smaller those circles become. It’s very easy for the enemy to present an effectively unbroken line to horse cavalry, because horses are big, unarmored targets and as such terribly vulnerable to machinegun fire, so the effective lethal radius of each enemy position is equal to the maximum range of its machineguns. But against armored vehicles, machineguns are (almost always) ineffective: The circles represented by machinegun positions effectively vanish, ordinary infantry has a lethal radius confined to its ability to mob the tank with high explosive, and the only circles that matter are those centered around heavy weapons like rocket launchers and artillery pieces – potentially creating enormous holes in the defensive line.

In order for this situation to be true, you need to make a few assumptions. First, the infantry line is relatively static and has no maneuverable reserve. Soviet doctrine for resisting blitzkrieg style maneuver warfare was to keep a significant maneuver able reserve and use it to actively engage and blunt the enemy offensive. Secondly, the infantry need to have a dearth of long range AT weapons, which is not the case IRL nor in Iron Empires. A single fireteam, in iron or not, with an MPIML or heavy laser can make life very hot for a tank unit for kilometers in any direction. Thirdly, the armour needs to have a higher strategic speed than foot. In this case I defer to Chris =) But that is all the more reason to rely on mechanized units. I’d also like to point out that cavalry, with some exceptions, has tended to have a similar strategic/operational speed to infantry. It only became the arm of decision in the tactical realm.

Oh, that’s absolutely true. Blitzkrieg was only dramatically successful when performed against adversaries who hadn’t figured out how to integrate the technologies of tanks, aircraft, and radio communications with the “infiltration” (i.e. strongpoint-bypassing) tactics of WWI stormtroopers. If both sides have the same technology and know how to use it, it’s a much more even game.

A grav tank operating at high speed and not hugging the ground as close as possible is no longer really a tank. It’s more of a very large, heavily armoured helecopter.

Quite. But then I’m very influenced by Soviet doctrine, which considers an attack helicopter functionally equivalent to a very light, very fast tank.

The crucial question neither of us has addressed is the density of the battlefield (“battlespace,” strictly speaking, since it’s three-dimensional). The more troops both sides can field per square (or cubic) kilometer, the more difficult maneuver becomes, and the greater the role of attrition. The ultimate example here is the Western Front in World War I – and it’s worth noting that the Eastern Front, with armies using the same technologies that produced trench warfare stalemate in the West, always remained much more a war of maneuver simply because the distances involved made it impossible for the opposing armies to form continuous lines across the whole theater of war.

If my adversary can form a continuous line of MPIML-equipped troops across the entire front – or around the key objectives – then grav armor isn’t going to be making grand flanking maneuvers at 200 kmh, because there are no flanks to turn. Then we do get into your combined arms crawl at ground level and walking pace, at least until someone manages to drive a major break in the enemy line.

But my impression of the Iron Empires is that a lot of planets aren’t so heavily militarized. Making the reasonable assumption that many worlds are relatively lightly settled – hundreds of millions of people instead of billions – and yet have surface areas comparable to that of Earth, they won’t have the population base to field massive armies that can saturate their available maneuver areas and produce stalemate. Add in the sociology of the Iron Empires, where feudalistic power structures make leaders reluctant to raise mass armies – What, give guns to the Freemen? It’d be less dangerous to accept defeat at the hands of a fellow noble! – and you’d expect a given population to support fewer troops than a fully mobilized Industrial Age nation-state. (Although, conversely, the feudal state will have more troops per population during peacetime than a non-mobilized nation-state).

P.S.: All of this is ignoring the potential presence of Hammer in orbit, or even ground-based artillery mounting fusor batteries or cruise missiles (e.g. the SPAG). Superstructural-scale Megablast damage is not going to be very friendly to any kind of dense formation, even a mobile one, and especially not a static defense line.

Awesome stuff, kids.

  1. I’d like to throw in some love for Mike’s points. Grav sleds would be awfully vulnerable to missile and laser teams concealed at ground level. Not at a distance, mind you, but simply from direct fire to the bottom of the chassis. Knock out those grav plates and down she goes – a la Black Hawk Down.

  2. Sydney’s on track with the scope of the battlespace. It’s worldwide. Sleds can hit ballistic trajectories to continent hop, or they can fly NOE over oceans. Setting strong points or LOBs against that kind of versatility is going to be tough.

So what would strong points and objectives look like? How would a savvy anvil captain protect his assests while destroying his opponent?

Well, Sydney has already pretty well delved into what static defenses could be like in his thread “Burning Hotok and other Fortress Worlds

IMHO, in a very metaphysical sense: Be the River or be the Rock. In future warfare involving both extreme mobility (glav sleds and Hammer assets) and hyper-lethal ordinance: anything that can’t be mobile had better be harder than a mountain (or buried under one!)

If you’re stuck with a static objective to defend it had better be as hard as a mountain, with concentric layers of defenses and countermeasures.

As the defender, you want mobile assets to intercept, harass and disrupt your enemy before they can get into position to attack your static objectives. Think of a modern-day Aircraft Carrier: it is utterly dependant on its compliment of scout planes, Interceptors and Bombers.

To maximize his defense, an Anvil Captain will want to mix offensive and defensive platforms working together. The SPAG-F with ADAP is good example of the latter. They would operate in pairs or teams, and the entire group would move by leapfrogging under the umbrella of one or the other defensive platforms.

To maximize offense: Concentration of fire. Maneuvering to trap or draw into a trap his opponent’s assets. Shoot n Scoot, Bait n Switch and other such tactics…

Oh, absolutely. (Although I presume grav plates are easier to armor than rotor blades, because anti-grav systems have a built-in safeguard against being too heavy!). I just did a quick rundown of the weapons tables on pg. 517 and 518, and every Low Index weapon from the MPIML and PaC on up will always Breach an Assault Sled if they hit and and have a 2/3 chance of doing a “Damaged” result (i.e. on a Mark or Severe result); dedicated anti-armor weapons like the Fusor, Heavy Laser, and Fusion Gun have a 1/3 chance of destroying one outright (on a Severe result). Even assuming there are significantly better-armored grav sleds out there, your main line of defense is absolutely Not Getting Hit.

I’m in agreement with Andrew’s [aka Mechaman’s] comments on defense. I particularly like the “aircraft carrier” metaphor, and I’ll take it one step further: On the defensive, unless you’re fortified, you probably need your logistics base itself to be mobile, or else it’ll get Hammered from orbit, or SPAG’d, or just blown up in the night by guys in thermal-opaque black pajamas with nuclear weapons. The obvious way to do this is with a whole fleet of grav-mobile utility vehicles. But you could conceivably have some kind of “Anvil carrier” that’s large enough to serve as a grav-mobile base, and to carry a fusor battery with an area defense system for self-protection, yet small enough to hide from prying orbital eyes. Because even an ADAPA system isn’t going to hold out long against concentrated bombardment: What it allows you to do is survive the first hit long enough to redeploy and break contact (in Firefight! terms, a Withdraw action).