Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ground Based Military Doctrines

Military personal gear and ground vehicles are ultimately tied to soldiers and military forces. Every weapon manufactured and every tank built are designed to fit the military doctrine of the customer that purchases them. Thus, to understand what military gear we have, we need to understand how a force fights. For the purposes of this post, we want to get a sense of how a military force fights “on the ground,” with infantry, human(ish) scale combat robots, and ground vehicles, so we can get a sense of what sort of equipment they might manufacture to fit their needs.


The Basic Soldier

Unless a military force’s goal is extermination, that force needs human or humanoid soldiers, because the point of most military forces is to exert control of a human (or humanoid) population. Soldiers can walk through doors, they can physically restrain someone, they can talk, trade, threaten and negotiate with the denizens of a world. They represent the core of every military force, and the default template from which all other more specialized soldiers are derived.

For a weapon, the basic soldier generally uses a blaster carbine or blaster rifle. The blaster rifle is typically more accurate and has more power for punching through armor, but a carbine is lighter and thus easier to carry (weight is always a major concern for an infantryman). An infantryman will often need to lay down “covering fire” to drive his opponents out from cover. This is typically done with either a high ROF weapon, grenades, or a grenade attachment. Most infantryman don’t concern themselves with melee, but if it comes up often, they may have a pistol, a bayonet attachment, or a vibro-weapon of some kind (typically a vibro-knife).

For armor, many infantryman have no appreciable armor at all! When they do, something that covers the chest is generally a good starting point. More well protected soldiers might have helmets and boots, while the most well protected soldiers may have total body suits. Generally, the intent of the armor is to turn a lethal rifle or carbine shot into a merely injurious one. Materials include ablative, if weight and cost is an issue and the only real concern is blaster fire; nanopolymer, if the army is cheap or primitive; battleweave, if weight is a concern, or carbide armor. Additionally, some armor may come with built in environmental suits of some kind: they may be specialized for a particular terrain (a desert survival suit see UT 177), for generally hostile environments (an expedition suit, see UT 178) to a sealed suit (see UT 179) or even a Vacc suit (UT 179). Armor might also come with camouflage, either specific to the environment (see HT 76 to 77) or programmable camouflage for multiple environments (UT 99). All such armor generally has attachment points for gear or utility belts.

Finally, the infantryman will need some general accessories. The most common will be some form of communicator, typically a small radio communicator. The infantryman, if he expects long marches, may also carry supplies, survival gear appropriate to the environment, a first aid kit, and something to carry it all in.

The infantryman faces monetary and physical limitations: soldiers will not carry everything because it both weighs too much, and it costs too much. Thus, all armies must make choices. The most common choice is between quantity or quality: some armies will choose to field as many soldiers as possible (who tend to be ill-equipped) or to field as good a soldier as possible (who tend to be well-trained and well-equipped, but few in number). A second choice many armies face is between generalization and specialization, and if the latter, what sort of specialization.

  • Numerous armies might have cheap, low quality weapons that focus on laying down as much firepower as possible. They’ll rarely bother much with armor.

  • Quality armies might have accurate, robust, high-damage weapons that focus on effective precision strikes. Armor will be a high priority.

  • Generalized forces will either carry a considerable amount of gear, or will have modular gear that can either change functionality or allow for easy change of loadout based on mission (for example, weapons with accessory rails, programmable camoflage)

  • Specialized forces will save weight and cost by taking highly specialized gear custom built for the sort of circumstances they expect to find themselves in: desert warriors in desert survival suits rather than expedition gear; mountaineers with ascending gear and mountain camouflage.

These choices can be on a case-by-case basis (an army might choose to have high ROF weapons but still use heavy armor).

Infantry Specialization

An army might consist of nothing but basic soldiers, but most armies will include a variety of specialists, often more elite than everyone else. By using a mixture of specializations, certain tactical options open up that the army can use to exploit the weaknesses of the basic infantryman. Below, I present a variety of specializations. Note that not all will be present in every force, and that some forces will combine multiple functions into a single soldier. More importantly, while a force might have every position below, not all of them need explicit detail; some can be assumed, especially if they make no major impact on the battlefield or aren’t exemplary of that force’s preferred method of combat.

The Officer: All armies have some form of chain of command, but a military force with an “officer” type emphasizes “front-line” officers, integrated with their unit and who lead from the front, rather than remote officers who “lead from behind.” Officers typically specialize in tactics and leadership, allowing them to help their soldiers overcome their fears and inspiring them to success; through superior coordination, they can defeat less well-led infantry. Officers often have pistols in addition to the rest of their gear, and long-range or expensive communication systems to maintain lines of communication with strategic overseeers. They may be brightly colored to be easily visible to their own men, but this makes them obvious targets to the enemy, so they either wear superior armor, or they don’t use bright colors.

The Assault Specialist: The original stormtrooper, these focus on breaking through suppression fire and enemy defenses to force the enemy infantry to fall back. They typically carry either high ROF weapons that can be easily fired on the move, or they have melee weapons (force swords or heavy vibroweapons) or both. They also need armor that can withstand basic covering fire, or some exceptional form of mobility (such as a jet pack) or both. They tend to be elite, and lead the charge.

Heavy Support: A squad often finds itself facing a difficult situation, typically either an exceedingly numerous enemy, or a heavily armored opponent such as an assault specialist or a vehicle. Heavy support carry the industrial-scale tools necessary to deal with those problems, typically in the form of a ridiculously oversized weapon. For dealing with large numbers of enemy, the support soldier might carry a high ROF weapon (such as gatling blaster) or an explosive support weapon (a semi-portable plasma cannon) or both; for dealing with vehicles or heavily armored opponents, they’ll carry low ROF, high-damage weaponry, such as plasma lance missiles, plasma lance grenades, or a semi-portable blaster cannon. Such weapons tend to be very heavy, so the Heavy Support soldier is usually very strong and very selective about what he carries. Some heavy support units are a team of two soldiers, a gunner and an assistant.

Commando: Recon units and commandos often need to slip behind enemy lines to either gather intelligence or to damage supply lines or sabotage communication networks. Commandos tend to favor stealth and accuracy over armor and firepower. They tend to have sniper rifles, pistols, “submachine blasters,” and explosives, and light armor with many stealth options. Commandos often tend to have extensive survival gear depending on their mission, allowing them to overcome difficult terrain with ease. They may also carry specialized equipment, such as comm scramblers, depending on their mission or role. They also often operate as forward observers for orbital or artillery strikes.

Vehicle Operators: Not properly infantry, they nonetheless have personal gear. They’ll often carry a smaller, more portable weapon, such as a light blaster or a pistol, in case their vehicle breaks down behind enemy lines. They may also need environmental suits if operating a dangerous vehicle, or in a dangerous environment. This is especially true of starfighter pilots, who will often have vacc-suits and need to worry about crashing behind enemy lines or on alien worlds.

Engineering: Before or after the conflict, some heavy construction may be necessary. This includes rapidly building fortifications, constructing bridges, building communication networks, or destroying these very things. While most such operations call below the radar of Psi-Wars (we don’t need to worry about the stats of the guy who built a temporary bridge), such units may carry unusual weaponry, such as plasma flamers, demolition charges, chemical weaponry, bomb-disposal gear, etc.

Combat Medic: How much does a military force care about its wounded? Few military forces are going to have no medical assistance (perhaps the Cybernetic Union, which might discard damaged robots and simply build new ones, or slave armies), but having access to medical assistance for wounded soldiers is a different concern than having front-line combat medics. In reality, the latter are more like combat paramedics, whose job it is to stabilize the wounded so they can be transported back to combat hospitals, but with access to advanced TL 11 medical technology, they may operate more like RPG medics, and tending to the wounded with such care that they can immediately return to the fight, provided their wounds aren’t too bad. Forces that choose such a character as a signature character will greatly favor keeping their forces (or at least their elites) in top condition and keeping them in the fight; alternatively, it might be a way of illustrating how compassionate a force is.

Logistics and Maintenance: As with engineering, logistical officers don’t generally need combat stats, but it may be worth stopping to think about the nature of the sort of people who engage in logistics, and what sort of logistics your military needs. These tend to be unstatted NPCs, but might serve as an interesting inspiration for a character.

Personal Materiel

The point of our exercise is not to choose signature soldiers, but to choose signature gear for each faction: the sorts of arms and armor that faction regularly manufactures. Understanding what sorts of soldiers they deploy tells us a lot about what sorts of arms they manufacture, but we still need to work out the details of this final point!


It should be noted that the armor in UT is not entirely compatible with the armor design system found in Pyramid, and in any case, we have new materials, which means all of our armor will be new.

Uniforms: Some factions won’t bother with armor, but all factions will have some sort of “combat dress” that their soldiers will wear. This is generally below our resolution, though it should be noted that Battleweave does offer the opportunity for “armored” combat uniforms, and they can be made stylish or given clothing options from UT 38-39.

Combat Vest: A carbide clamshell or a battleweave tactical vest might act as a core defense for most forms of infantry, but especially the basic rifleman. Armoring the torso defends the vitals and can turn a critical wound into a merely dangerous one. Characters with battleweave tactical vests might also add cerablate inserts for additional protection; as an ablative form of armor, it will only protect the character once or twice, but this is sufficient if the character does not expect to be taking the brunt of fire during an assault.

Full Body Armor: The heaviest and most expensive armor, this is likely reserved for assault or elite troops. This includes everything from carbide laminate armor systems of the Empire to the diamondoid armor of space knights. They tend to be designed to be proof against at least blaster carbines and perhaps proof against blaster rifles, and they’re generally sealed with at least filtered breathers or, possibly, full vacuum support.

Lighter forms of full body armor are possible. A battleweave body suit is light and slim enough to be worn with some other forms of armor, such as a combat vest. A battleweave tactical suit or full vaccuum suit offer protection inferior to full combat armor, but comparable to that of tactical vests or clamshells, as well as sealing the character off from the world, and might make a good “compromise” armor, offering the totality of protection of full combat armor, but with lighter weight and lower cost.

Accessories: Armor for the core of the body is only the start. In addition to cerablate inserts, characters might choose to wear gloves to protect their hands, or boots to protect their feet, or to provide assistance to stealth, hiking or climbing. Especially stealthy characters (such as commandos) might wear programmable camouflage or dynamic chameleon systems. Advanced industries might manufacture some form of force screen, such as the force buckler, especially suitable for assault forces.


As with armor, while there’s nothing wrong with the beam weapons of UT (they’re actually fairly accurate for the beam weapon design system), Psi-Wars has some new assumptions that makes it easier to simply rebuild a lot of the old blasters.

The Blaster Rifle: The blaster rifle or blaster carbine will be the weapon of choice for soldiers. The blaster carbine is typically lighter and has a lower bulk, making it easier to carry and easier to fight with in close combat. The blaster rifle isn’t actually more accurate (though we can make it more accurate, of course), but does have longer ranges and slightly better damage. When it comes to specialty weapons, we’ll tend to see either a focus on higher ROF (“assault rifles”) for dealing with large numbers of opponents (especially while on the move) or a high powered weapons, especially with a lower ROF, for dealing with single, heavy targets, such as a “sniper rifle.”

The Blaster Pistol: Most soldiers won’t use a pistol as their main weapon, but officers or vehicle operators (pilots) might, and soldiers that don’t use it as their main weapon might prefer to keep it as a back-up, especially commandos or assault specialists who need to use a weapon in tight confines. The variations tend to be light, heavy and “holdout” pistols. Heavy pistols are ideal for dealing with tough opponents in close combat (the US military chose the .45 Colt because it had sufficient firepower to stop a berserking Moro warrior dead in his tracks; a heavy blaster pistol might have a similar origin), while a “light” pistol is generally sufficient for most cases. The holdout isn’t generally interesting militarily, but might see serious use by spies.

Specialist Blasters: Between a blaster pistol and a blaster rifle stands the “assault blaster,” or a “blaster SMG,” a light but highly rapid firing weapon, ideal for firing on the move. It tends to do little damage compared to a carbine, but tends to be heavier than a pistol. It’s a good choice for light assault infantry or vehicle operators who want something with a little more punch. In Psi-Wars, plasma weapons broadly take the place of the shotgun, and works well for attacking doors or as a sort of “grenade launcher,” packing serious, indiscriminate firepower. This might be an excellent choice for assault teams. Flexible forces might also include plasma flamers (for structural destruction), EM disruptors (to disable vehicles or robots) and stunners; some of these features might be “underbarrel” attachments.

Heavy Weapons: Like rifles, heavy weapons tend to break down into attacking groups (“anti-personnel”) and attacking singular targets (“anti-materiel”). The former includes gatling blasters and other high ROF blasters, as well as EMGLs or hand-held grenades armed with plasma explosives. Heavy plasma weapons might also qualify. For the latter, we tend to see missile launchers with plasma lance missiles, plasma lance weapons, or heavy single-shot blasters. Most military forces need at least light anti-vehicular weaponry, lest they be destroyed by the first IFV they face, but most military forces will also have some sort of anti-personnel heavy weapons (“squad support” weapons). Basic infantry might also equip underbarrel grenade launchers, giving each infantryman the flexibility to be a “light heavy” if necessary.

Melee Weapons: Swords and knives don’t win wars much in Psi-Wars, with the exception of the force sword, but the force sword needs to be in the hands of an expert, and is only useful for an assault specialist in tight quarters (which makes it an exceptional weapon for boarding and taking starships). Vibro-knives see use by commandos who want a silent kill, or as a weapon of last resort; vibro-bayonets are similarly only useful as a weapon of last resort, though they look intimidating. Heavier melee weapons, such as vibro-blades or vibro-glaives only see ceremonial use, or among primitive assault forces. Neurolash weaponry see some use, but mainly for police actions or for capturing targets.

Combat Robots

Military robotics deserves more attention than Psi-Wars has given it; the Alliance almost certainly uses combat robots, and the Cybernetic Union definitely does. Broadly speaking, we can define robots in much the same way we define human infantry (especially since Psi-Wars uses very humanoid robots), and they can fill the same niches; however, robots can be built to be much tougher, bigger, stronger and more specialized than their human counterparts; they also tend not to panic or suffer major morale problems and are easier to supply and maintain. Their downsides are that they require major technological industry to build and maintain, and they tend to lack tactical depth and the ability to acquire too much experience without “gaining interesting personalities,” which means they tend to remain specialized. Furthermore, the “best” robots in regards to a lack of panic or morale problems, those that follow orders precisely, tend to lack imagination.

Light Combat Robots: The lightest combat robots tend to resemble humans in scale, size and durability. They tend to be built with cheap materials and serve the role of “warm body with a gun,” being vast, manufactured armies of disposable soldiers. Elite versions of light combat robots tend to fill a similar niche to the commando: they may have stealth functions such as dynamic chameleon systems and take advantage of their natural silence to better ambush their targets.

Heavy Combat Robots: If we take advantage of the ability to manufacture an inhumanely strong and tough robot, we have a combat robot. They tend to have armor built in, and may also have weaponry built in. These make excellent assault units or heavy support units. They tend to be too expensive to field en masse, but operate well as “elite” combat units. The Combat Android from GURPS UT page 167 is a good example of such a robot.

Super Heavy Combat Robots: Given that we can build our robots as big as we want, we can start to blur the lines between vehicle and robot. In principle we can go all the way up to a robotic tank! For our purposes, however, we’ll treat such a robot as a tank, and thus treat them as vehicles. Even so, we have room between “full vehicle sized robot” and “infantry-scale robot,” including SM +1 to SM +2 robots with unusual locomotion systems and heavy weaponry that put it behind a heavy support unit, but below mobile artillery, such as robot armed with two semiportable blasters and moving on multiple legs. An example of this is the Warbot from GURPS page 167. These tend to be blatantly inhuman in appearance.

Recon Robot: We can also build robots much smaller than a human, and real-world drones often operate in a recon capacity, carrying surveillance equipment to places where soldiers cannot easily go. They generally have some sort of contragravity, surveillance equipment and perhaps some tools to allow them to better infiltrate or attack. They fulfill a role similar to that of commando, but much lighter and less effective in combat. This includes the Scout Robot on page 80 of UT.

Tactical Robot: Robots lack the presence and innovation to act as good commanders (though the Cybernetic Union does not hesitate to use them). With sufficient processing power, however, they can begin to make god-like predictions about the future, and use their superb calculations to offer advice to commanders. Such “robots” are more likely to be semi-mobile mainframes than actual “robots” in the classic sense.

Logistical Robots: The role of the Robot in Psi-Wars (and, arguably, Star Wars) is to take up the jobs that player characters find uninteresting. They can act as medics (nurse bot, UT 202), engage in maintenance and repair (Tech bot, UT 85), perform complex hyperspatial navigation, do the heavy lifting during construction, act as interpreters during negotiations, or servants to help equip and assist elite units with their combat preparations. Arguably, the most common robot on the battlefield will not be the “combat robot” of any stripe, but logistical robots assisting quietly in the background.

Ground Vehicles

While not strictly necessary for a functional Psi-Wars military, vehicles can move far faster, carry more armor and heavier equipment than a human(oid) on foot can. They generally cannot replace basic infantry, but they certainly augment them. The downside of vehicles is that they can be too big to easily enter areas that infantry can, that they’re larger and heavier and thus take more room to transport through space or down from orbit and, finally, that they tend to be expensive.

We can break down vehicles into a few different categories, based on their speed, toughness and firepower. In reality, most vehicles will mix these to some degree, depending on the specific needs of the military. As with infantry, a military may have any or all of the below options, but most will mix, and we’ll only pick a few exemplary options.

Fast vehicles

Generally, vehicles that favor speed over every other concern are designed for recon or highly mobile warfare. If a military force can rely on its orbital assets for recon and deployment, it might not need fast vehicles at all, but armies that must traverse great swathes of land or who cannot rely on such assets (due to things like cloud cover, foliage, interference, etc) may need high-speed vehicles to quickly cover ground. High mobility vehicles can also trade “mobility for armor” relying on dodges and lightning quick flank “hit and run” tactics to defeat an enemy.

Examples of “fast” vehicles include recon hoverbikes, which are a pure expression of speed often augmented with light weaponry; fast attack vehicles like the TIE Mauler from Empire at War, which operate like light tanks, with an emphasis on light or specialized firepower and little armor.

Most such vehicles will use either repulsorlift technology or, in specialized cases, legs. Most such vehicles will go as fast as they can, typically 100 mph+, but certainly faster than walking. They might also have unique forms of mobility, like jump-jets, but won’t have flight (because then we’re discussing an aerial vehicle, rather than a ground vehicle), but one might conceive of hybrid ground/air vehicles, such as an aircraft that can land and attack.

Tough Vehicles

A tough vehicle’s primary purpose is to overcome the firepower of the enemy. In the case of armored personnel carriers or infantry fighting vehicles this is to protect the soldiers long enough to get them into position and thereafter support them in combat. In the case of a tank, this is so they can blast through a hardened defensive point. Tough vehicles need sufficient defense to pass unscathed through the worst attack they expect to face: an infantry fighting vehicle should be immune to light arms fire, and even semi-portable gatling blasters, while a tank should be able to endure a shot from its own cannon, and certainly brush off anything that could defeat more lightly armored vehicles.

Most tough vehicles, unless they want to be semi-mobile fortifications, are a hybrid of some kind, as the toughness is meant to protect something. In the case of an APC, the vehicle focuses on mobility as well, to get their occupants into position. In the case of a heavy tank, then it needs at least some mobility and solid firepower to do its job. Tanks often have as much mobility, toughness and firepower they can, making them the most defining vehicle of a faction’s arsenal, but often at the cost of a very high, well, cost.

Powerful Vehicles

A powerful vehicle seeks to put as much firepower on a target as possible. These can be broken down into anti-vehicular and anti-personnel. The latter tends to be called artillery, and focuses on explosive ordinance, usually “over the horizon” attacks, either a gauss launcher or a missile launcher, though direct-fire plasma cannons can work too. Anti-vehicular weapons include anti-tank cannons, which focus on having as much direct firepower as possible to defeat the armor of a tank, anti-aircraft cannons, which usually have high ROF and explosive rounds (such as plasma flak) to defeat supporting aircraft, and anti-orbital cannons, which are often massive behemoths with sufficient firepower to damage a capital-class ship 100 miles away.

Most powerful vehicles need at least a little mobility, because once they attack, they invite inevitable reprisal.

Aerial Vehicles

Starfighters, corvettes and capital ships can all directly support a ground operation, but we need to understand precisely what it is they need to do before designing our vehicles to perform in this arena. Military forces might deploy dedicated air vehicles (such as ornithopters) but most Psi-Wars vehicles capable of aerial flight are capable of space flight, thanks to the nature of plasma thrusters, ion thrusters, etc.

The main missions of aerial vehicles are recon, transport, close air support, and bombardment. Recon can come from orbiting craft simply looking down at the planet and transmitting the results, or starfighters that fly overhead and report the results. Transport might involve bringing infantry and/or vehicles from orbit to ground or vice versa, or moving the same across difficult terrain and then landing them somewhere. If these are to be “hot” landings, they need to have plenty of armor and supporting weaponry, and often come to resemble “flying” IFVs. Close Air Support involves bringing major firepower to a designated area at the request of local infantry, typically do deal with something they cannot. This typically requires precise weapons (missiles, high ROF blasters, etc) capable of dealing with infantry and heavy vehicle and the ability to “loiter” (stay in the area in case more support is needed), which typically means a contragravity device, though most fighters can at least strafe an area. Bombardment involves the total destruction of an area, either via something like bombs or, more commonly, an orbital bombardment. In this case, the aerial vehicle takes on the role of artillery.

Aerial vehicles have the advantage of being able to reach an area faster than most ground vehicles, and are beyond the reach of ground forces not specifically equipped to deal with them. However, they tend to cost far more, and have less “ground presence” which prevents them from intimidating a population or responding as quickly to a problem. Finally, they may have limited availability, especially in the case of orbital support, which means they cannot always be called upon. Orbital vehicles will often have “windows” in which they may operate, times during which their orbit puts them in position to do something. Realistically, an impulse drive or similar device could easily “loiter” over an area forever, but I encourage GMs to suggest that orbital vehicles have these windows to prevent them from being exploited (a ground fight is not interesting if an orbiting vehicle can just destroy everything from its untouchable position).

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