Monday, September 13, 2010

The Battle Of Hoth Unlimited, Part Two

The first part can be found HERE. Please refer to Part One for the various rules and assumptions we're using for these scenarios. And remember, this is my opinion only, and this is purely for fun!

In Part One, we took a look at the more low tech forces, namely the Xenomorphs, the Zerg, the modern US Military, and Stargate Command. With one exception, the Empire emerged triumphant. However, as we move on to more high-tech combatants, the resistance starts getting much stiffer as the Empire begins dealing with foes with are much closer to being their technological peers.


Source: Avatar

Tech Level: 14-15

In the movie, the Na’vi were able to best the human forces through a series of specialized circumstances, such as a sensor-scrambling electromagnetic field and an apparently sentient biosphere. Those circumstances will not be in play here. Also, in order to fill out the same numbers with the rebels, the militia will be increased from a few hundred as shown in the movie to 2000 total troops.

The mercenary forces on Pandora are mostly supplied with what their society views as cheap, second-rate cast-off equipment or what the colonist were able to manufacture on-site with their limited facilities. Since we don’t get a chance to see what the top-of-the-line gear back on Earth is like, we have to go only with what's shown in the movie.

Composed almost entirely of ex-soldiers from a future Earth that is as ravaged by war as the modern-day version, the militia here has a very strong core of experienced veterans, and they seemed to be highly motivated (their corporate employers were obviously paying them well.) In addition, they faced off regularly against an extremely hostile array of hard-to-kill fauna, and its almost certain that they have armor-piercing rounds and advanced personal armor at least equal to what the SGC employed in the last match-up. Thus, soldier-to-soldier, they have a definitive advantage over the snowtroopers with their superior rates of fire.

In place of the snowspeeders the Pandoran militia will have nine Scorpion rotary-blade gunships, which are armed with 50-caliber rotary guns and missile pods. We don't really see any stationary point defense weapons in the movie, so they'll have instead the AMP mecha walkers, which are armed with 30mm autocannons and three-foot “knives.”

Like with the normal US Military scenario in Part One, sorties of the Scorpion gunships are sent to take care of the AT-ATs. Unlike them, however, the Scorpions with their much higher-tech targeting systems should be able to hit the walkers’ individual moving legs more easily. Concentrated missile fire would eventually start bringing the walkers down. In the end, Scorpions can probably bring down one third to one half of the AT-ATs, though they themselves will probably suffer heavy casualties from concentrated ground fire.

The AMPs vs the AT-STs would be an interesting match-up. Both are very maneuverable robotic walker units, though the AT-ST probably has the edge in size, armor and firepower, while the AMP would have a superior rate of fire and versatility.

So, on balance, the Pandoran Militia can almost evenly match the Imperials unit-to-unit, lacking only heavy armor vehicles that can directly match the AT-ATs. But then, the Rebels in the original movie didn’t have the latter either.

RESULT: Marginal Victory for the Rebels. Despite their higher tech advantages over the modern day US army and the SGC, the Imperials’ numbers still do Pandoran Militia in. Like with the Rebels, they’re able to hold off the enemy so that all the transport ships make it off planet, but only just barely before the Imperials smash their defensive line and destroy the power generators. Casualties suffered will also probably be similar to that of the Rebels as well.


Source: The Terminator Movies

Tech Level: 14-15

These are mostly T-800 models (the kind played by Arnold Schwartzenegger in the movies), with a small smattering of T-1000s mixed in, say one T-1000 for every 200 T-800s, or about 10 total. As we’re leaving off the more obscure Star Wars walker units so as not to confuse casual readers, we’ll do the same with many of the more obscure Terminator models from various sources, and just stick with the two everyone probably knows. The T-800s here are flesh coated, as we’re familiar with seeing them in the movies.

Terminators are a bit inconsistent, tactically. At times they’re extremely clever and subtle. At others, they’re single mindedly dim (as with the T-1000’s “you’re twenty feet away but I must stab you with my pointy arm-knives instead of just grabbing a gun and shooting you” strategy in T2.) Since we’re dispensing with Plot-Induced Stupidity (PIS) for these match-ups, we’ll stick with the Terminators able to use smart tactics and subtlety.

In their future, Terminators use advanced, high-caliber firearms with very high rates of fire and ammo capacity. They probably fall somewhere between the capabilities of modern firearms and the high-tech armor-piercing ammunition used by the SGC and the Pandoran Militia. The human resistance was very wily, but was usually not heavily armored. It will probably take more than one shot for a Terminator to bring down a snowtrooper.

It should also be mentioned that Terminators are extremely efficient crack shots (except when aiming at the hero/heroine, of course, but that can be considered PIS.) They will have a much higher rate of hitting their targets, even at long ranges, than any mere human troops. So though their weapons do not have the penetration to take out the snowtroopers with one shot, their inhuman accuracy will more than make up for this deficiency.

The Terminators also luck out in that their coatings of human flesh in a way serve as additional armor for themselves. Since blasters deliver most of their damage as heat, when they hit the outer layer of flesh, it will explode in a messy shower of sparks, steam, and viscera, but leave the robotic chassis underneath largely untouched.

Their endoskeletons, made from an advanced uber-alloy and designed to be extremely tough and bullet proof, could probably also survive a half dozen or so direct blaster hits before the unit goes down. This combined with their flesh ‘armor’ makes the T-800s extremely tough to kill compared to the snowtroopers, though concentrated fire or one or two solid shots to the head will probably do the trick. If the Empire had to rely on just its infantry in this battle, they would likely be completely routed despite their numerical superiority.

Ironically, the usually much more fearsome T-1000s are much more vulnerable to heat damage, so a single blaster hit would disrupt the workings of a T-1000 for at least several seconds, and repeated hits would wear away at its structure until there was too little left to be effective (they supposedly become less intelligent the more mass they lose.) So they’d likely hang back for now.

At first, the enemy’s seeming high resistance to blaster fire would seriously unnerve the snowtroopers. But as soon as they see the metal endoskeletons underneath, cries of ‘they’re just freaking droids!’ would go up through the ranks. Even though these are very tough and deadly units, robots are so ubiquitous in the Empire that the fear-inducing psychological advantage Terminators usually have over human foes would not be present here. Given that droids are a lowly slave class in the Empire, many of the troopers might actually be incensed that these ‘uppity’ mechanicals would dare pretend to be human, and fight back all the fiercer at this affront.

Smart Empire commanders would form up the troops around the AT-STs, to take advantage of the walkers’ heavier firepower to drive wedges through the Terminator’s defensive lines, and let the AT-ATs fully take the lead to give them some cover.

As equivalents to the Rebels snowspeeders, the Terminators have HK-Aerials, the advanced twin-engine air vehicles glimpsed at in most of the movies. These gunships have advanced weapons that include lasers, missiles, and plasma guns, but unfortunately their lasers and plasma guns would be next to useless against the blaster-proof armor. And with the uber-armor the AT-ATs are sporting, it would take quite a bit of concentrated fire from their missiles (which, since they usually fight unarmored humans, probably aren’t that effective against heavy armored units) to affect even the walkers’ leg joints. They have deadly accuracy with these weapons, and can hit the most vulnerable points dead-on almost every time. Even so, at best they may be able to take out a third of the AT-ATs before they become too threatened by concentrated ground fire.

But the AT-ATs may not be safe yet. Seeing that their air units are not faring well, the Terminators may try a different tactic: an organized ground assault on the remaining big walkers. However, this is not just a kamikaze Zerg-like rush. Instead, each group of the T-800s serve as cover for a T-1000, to get them as close to the AT-ATs as possible without damage. Once at the walkers, the T-1000s can make their way up the legs easily, to try and find an egress inside. Any size opening will be enough for them, even if its an inch or less across, and they’re strong enough that they could pull off vent covers and the like (like the one that Luke cut open with his lightsaber.) Once inside the vehicles, the T-1000s make quick work of any crew or troopers there.

Though this tactic will not work on ever AT-AT (the imperials would wise up to it fast), it may take out a significant number of the remaining walkers, slowing the advance.

RESULT: Marginal Rebel Victory. This is the one match-up in these scenarios that seems almost dead even and could go either way easily. The Terminators’ inherent toughness and deadly accuracy make up for their disadvantages in numbers and weapon sophistication. It would come down to how effective the T-1000 gambit with AT-AT walkers would prove. Between the HK-Aerials and the T-1000s, all but one or two of the walkers would probably eventually be taken out. However, that’s all that’s needed to break through the defensive lines and take out the generators. The Imperials are delayed long enough for the transports to get away, and the base will eventually be captured after a long, drawn out fight with the surviving Terminators.


Source: Stargate SG-1 (Gua’uld)

Tech Level: 18

These are the Jaffa as the Gua’uld first employed them in the early seasons of Stargate: SG-1, not the Free Jaffa they evolved into later in the series.

The Gua’uld system lord are the technological peers of Star Wars’ Empire, having many of the same major innovations in place (antigravity, force fields, plasma weapons, etc.) Yet they have failed to take full advantage of what that technology is capable of. And in no place is this more apparent than in their personal guard/ground troops, the Jaffa.

This is not the fault of the Jaffa themselves, who were often shown to have extremely high quality training, morale, and motivation (often deriving from their religious fervor, falsely believing that the aliens they served were real gods.) Rather, their Gua’uld masters succumbed to a number of cultural deficiencies that left them deficient as a fighting force.

The Gua’uld were first and foremost arrogant, having no real rivals in the Milky way Galaxy for thousands of years, save for members of their own kind. They had no reason to develop better tactics. They were technological scavengers, having stolen most of their high technology from other races, and were extremely slow to innovate on their own. And the Jaffa was used also as a police force, and much of their equipment were meant more to terrify a superstitious populace into submission than to serve as practical weapons of war. Those choices will serve the Jaffa poorly here.

The Jaffa’s primary armament is the staff weapon. Two meters long, it can shoot plasma bursts of similar performance and power to a stormtrooper’s blaster, and can double as a quarterstaff-like hand weapon. The Jaffa employ very heavy, highly-stylized armor. However, it also hampers movement and has no internal displays or sensors beyond a simple 'periscope' system that allows them to see normally out of their raised headpieces.

Since the two sides’ weapons are very similar in performance, and a single shot from a staff weapon can take down another armored Jaffa, I think its safe to say that the SW troopers’ weapons will have a similar effect, despite the Jaffa’s thicker-seeming armor. Point-defense weapons will be tripod-mounted plasma weapons seen very occasionally in the series, and in place of the Rebels’ speeders, they have 9 death gliders (unlike the SGC’s modified versions, the original death gliders seemed designed with ground strafing in mind as one of their primary functions.)

Though as individual warriors the Jaffa can be truly exceptional, their grasp of group tactics seem universally abysmal throughout the run of Stargate: SG-1. They will fight fiercely, but not effectively as a unit. So despite their better overall troop quality, their leaders’ inability to grasp effective tactics puts them at a disadvantage as compared to the snowtroopers.

The death gliders run into a problem as well. The armor of the AT-ATs are blaster proof, even in the legs. The weapons on the death gliders, which seem to have similar capabilities, therefore will not be able to much to harm the plodding behemoths.

RESULT: Decisive Victory for the Empire. The Jaffa inflict heavy casualties, but in the end their incoherence as an integrated fighting force and their inability to do much to the Empire’s armored units result in the Empire reaching and destroying the power generators with only moderate delays. A number of transports are caught on the ground, and the base is captured.


Source: Traveller RPG

Tech Level: 18

In some ways, the Third Imperium of the Traveller RPG universe is the opposite of the Jaffa. They too are technological peers of Star Wars’ Empire, at Tech Level 18. However, they take far greater advantage of what their technology is capable of than the Empire does, at least as far as their ground military is concerned. The Empire’s technology would probably dominate in space, but on planet surfaces the story would be completely different.

The Third Imperium (TI)is composed of 11,000+ worlds, which actually have a huge variety of Tech Levels spread among them. We’ve already seen what their lower-tech level troops could probably do with other groups using similar technology, such as the Pandoran Militia. Here, we’ll use its highest tech troops at the same Tech Level of the Empire’s.

The most significant advantage for the average TI trooper is being equipped with powered battle armor, similar in many ways to the armors used in the novel Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein. With Star Wars’s very advanced robotics, its surprising that this technology seems to have been given the short shrift in the Empire. The Third Imperium took full advantage of it, however. These powered battle armors are superior to stormtrooper armor in every way. They allow full range of movement, enhance the user’s strength, and is equipped with an advanced sensor suite (IR, radar, light enhancement, telescopic, etc) and holographic helmet displays.

Also standard equipment are grav belts, which allow the Third Imperium trooper to actually fly and maneuver in the air for short periods of time if necessary. Most often, though, they’re used for simple ‘jumps’ to gain a lot of ground in a hurry. Advanced anti gravity is something often seen in the Empire, but apparently is never used outside of vehicles and spaceships and other specialized applications.

Their standard weapon is the PGMPs, or Plasma Gun Man Portable. They use the same operating principle as the snowtroopers’ blasters, but are ginned up into much more devastating weapons. The bolts travel far faster (equivalent of high speed bullets vs. the fast ball pitches of the SW blasters) and are much hotter (at least ten thousands degrees.) They have ranges of several kilometers, are equipped with advanced targeting scopes, and often have attached underslung grenade launchers. The armor the Traveller forces wear are actually designed to withstand at least one shot by PGMPs, meaning the weaker blaster rifles used by the snowtroopers will only do minimal damage. The heavier blasters of the AT-STs or the AT-Ats would be needed to take out a TI trooper in a single shot.

What this means is that the average Third Imperium high-tech trooper is more than a match for quite a number of Empire snowtroopers. Concentrated blaster fire could take down an armored Third Imperium trooper, but given the greater range and power of the PGMPs it seems unlikely that any will come close enough for that to happen, even with the Empire’s greater numbers.

Point defense weapons would be heavy fusion guns mounted on tripods, which have ranges of several kilometers and advanced targeting systems. Fusion guns are similar to plasma guns, except they contain their plasma in their compressed magnetic bottle long enough for a fusion process to begin, greatly increasing the amount of heat/energy the bolt has (at least 200,000 plus degrees) when finally released. Though the AT-ATs are ‘blaster proof’, these weapons would seriously put that to the test. An AT-AT could maybe survive one hit, but two or three or more in rapid succession would likely take it down.

If all this wasn’t bad enough, the snow speeder equivalents used here are the mainstay of Third Imperium high-tech armor units, the Trepida (short for Trepidation) grav tank. These are about the same size as a modern M-1 Abrams tank, but are truly monstrous weapon systems. For the first time in these scenarios, the AT-ATs meet their match in a heavy armor unit.

As a grav tank, the Trepidas use advanced anti gravity technology and are more maneuverable than modern day attack helicopters, as well as being capable of achieving transonic speeds if needed. They are equipped with the best sensors and targeting systems of their tech level, and are powered by long-enduring fusion generators.

The tank, in Third Imperium currency, costs a little over 81 million credits to build. 79 million of that is spent just on its gun, a rapid-fire heavy fusion gun with a range of many kilometers. Plus the tank is designed to take shots from other Trepidas, at least along its very heavily armored forward arc, and could withstand fire for a time from even the AT-ATs’ heavy blasters.

Ton for ton, they are just as tough as the AT-ATs, but are far more maneuverable and mount a far more versatile and devastating main weapon. In most circumstances a Trepida would make very short work of any AT-AT and barely get a scratch. And once the Trepida’s are done with the heavy walkers, they turn their fusion firepower on the AT-STs and snowtrooper lines.

RESULTS: Decisive Rebel Victory. A complete route of the Empire forces. As soon as the assault is spotted, all nine Trepida grav tanks pop up and smash the Empire’s armor units and advancing lines with a long-range rapid-fire barrage of star-hot fusion fire. The rapid-fire main tank guns overwhelm the blaster-proof armor of the AT-ATs and the walkers are slagged in short order. The powered armor troopers are used mainly for clean up. The battle lasts less than a minute, and the Empire forces never come within a kilometer of the base.


Source: Star Trek (DS9 era)

Tech Level: 21/22

Once we get past the Empire’s Tech Level of 18, the battles with other science fiction forces become more and more one-sided. The results of the imperial forces facing off against, say, 2000 Ringworld-Era Kzinti or 2000 Daleks should be pretty obvious (though admittedly they might still be cool spectacles to watch.) However, given the traditional (and on many levels silly) rivalry between the two fandoms, there’s one we really have to address: Star Trek’s Federation and its Starfleet Personnel.

At the beginning of these scenarios, we dispensed with Plot-Induced Stupidity (PIS), and Star Trek is by far one of the worst purveyors of it. In fact, its creators have even stated that they purposely dumb down some parts of the show to keep it accessible from week to week to the casual, non-scifi viewer. The crews conveniently forget about the supertechnology they tripped across or invented just the week before, the transporters fail if someone sneezes too hard, and they ignore the fact their weapons have ranges of hundreds of thousands of miles and trade shots with other ships at eyeball range.

However, when we remove PIS, it quickly becomes obvious just how powerful Star Trek technology can be, and how potentially terrifying it could prove to be on the wrong end of it. The DS9 era is chosen here because that’s the series of the show that portrayed the most ground combat.

Starfleet crews are very high quality troops. They’re highly motivated, trained, and disciplined, chosen only from the best and brightest of the Federation. Though humanitarian and often compassionate, Starfleet personnel will kill if necessary, and that will be the case here. Dispensing with the Redshirt-Ricky-Gets-Eaten-By-The-Monster-Of-The-Week PIS, its very easy to see how formidable opponents they can be, even if the Tech Level was even.

But its not. The plasma guns and fusion guns fielded by the Third Imperium troops in the last scenario were very impressive and devastating. But phasers, even the humble Type II hand phasers from the original series, are even more so.

With enough power in its cells to apparently nuke a starship if set on overload, these weapons are amazingly versatile, both in use and power. Their fire modes range from single shot, continuous beam, wide beam, and autofire. Their power can be set to simply disrupt someone’s nervous system (stun), to deliver energy blasts that can superheat a substance or make it explode, to full-on nuclear disintegration. Each is capable of firing thousands of killing shots (less if used on its very high settings) before its cells run dry, and the weapons have ranges of thousands of meters.

Its been pointed out that phasers are ergonomically poorly designed, and that’s true. But then, I’ve seen people in arcades blasting around those weird looking plastic weapons that shooter games have and become amazing crack shots with them. The phaser, very lightweight with no recoil, would handle very similarly to them. So a cylindrical handle, ‘dustbuster’ configuration, or lack of iron sights will not prevent a person properly trained with them from being able to hit their targets.

Their power as hand weapons are pretty hard to deny. I remember reading once that on its highest setting, a hand phaser could disintegrate over 400 cubic feet of matter. The composition of the target wouldn’t matter (and hence most armor, even the ‘blaster proof’ type, would be useless) because it’s a chain reaction taking place in the target’s atomic nuclei.

Being able to disintegrate the snowtroopers or some of the armor units in a single shot would be no laughing matter to the other side. It would be terrifying, and almost as bad for snowtrooper morale as facing the Zerg.

Of course chances are the Starfleet personnel would just use killing settings on the snowtroopers, and save the disintegration for the AT-STs, or the AT-ATs’ leg joints. In the original series episode ‘The Omega Glory’, the Mad Captain Of The Week described how he and a handful of other men, armed with just hand phasers, killed many thousands of natives in a single battle. Having much longer ranges, power, and endurance than the snowtroopers’ blasters, they would be able to accomplish the same thing here. One can imagine setting the phasers on continuous beam set to kill, and just sweeping them back and forth over the approaching troopers. Now repeat for 2000 or so defenders. In most ground battles in the various series, the first thing any combatant does when the phasers start firing is head for cover. Out in the open in the snowy wasteland, the snowtroopers won't have that option.

With tricorders, the Starfleet crews could also pinpoint the power sources of each of the armor units, and may elect to just use concentrated fire to take them out instead of destroying the whole vehicle.

The Star Trek universe mostly lacks tactical point defense weapons and armored land vehicles; it could be that ubiquitous disintegration weapons and teleportation rendered these obsolete. The only traditional-looking tactical weapon I ever recall seeing on the show was the photon grenade mortar from the original series episode ‘Arena’, and they seemed to have mini-nuke-level explosive yield (a distance of 1200 yards to the target was cited as being kind of too close to safely use one of those things, and they dived for cover as soon as it was launched.) Even if the Starfleet side does have these, they likely won’t use them in this battle, as the blasts could collapse the underground base.

Instead of snowspeeder equivalents, we’ll instead allow the Starfleet side to have their preferred mode of on-planet travel—a six-person transporter room and the sensors and power source needed to make them work for at least the breadth of the battlefield. This allows the Starfleet side to use a very unusual tactic in taking out the Imperials’ armored vehicle—they simply beam the crews off of them. The blaster-proof armor would likely be no hinderance, anymore than starship hulls are in the Star Trek series. In fact, this would probably be their preferred tactic, as it would be the most humanitarian way to deal with the enemy, at least with the AT-ATs and the AT-STs. They could also teleport away vital parts of the walkers, such as the pins holing the knee joints together or some vital power conduit or something similar.

To the troopers and Imperial commanders, the walker units would just slowly grind to a halt, and just stand there silently. Some of the AT-STs may fall over. The commanders on the ground halt the advance to investigate, and discover the crews and troops on board have literally vanished. Their men now thoroughly unnerved, they will have a hard time getting the advance to move forward again, even if they have replacement crews for the vehicles readily available. (But of course those would just end up vanishing as well a few minutes later)

If the Federation personnel really wanted to play mind games, they could also beam away the commanders as well at that point. The trooopers, who have never seen teleportation before but may have seen some of their fellows disintegrated a few minutes ago, may conclude that their commanders were simply wiped out of existence by some unknown weapon of terror. Now with no heavy vehicles and no leaders, the spooked snowtroopers do the only sensible thing: break their advance and retreat to get new orders. Using this tactic, its entirely possible the Starfleet personnel could stymie the ground assault with minimal casualties on either side. They would, however, now have several hundred prisoners they would have to deal with, at least until the last transport was away.

Of course, this assumes Starfleet is in their usual nice guy mode. If they wanted to be completely ruthless, they’d just beam the vehicle crews and commanders a mile into the ground, and use the phasers on full disintegration to wipe out every single snowtrooper to the man.

RESULT: Decisive Rebel Victory. Freed from PIS, Starfleet’s technical advantages (especially phasers and transporters) simply prove too overwhelming. Like with the Traveller scenario above, the Imperial troops probably never make it to within a kilometer of the base. A number of Imperial troops are taken prisoner via the transporter. All Rebel transport ships make it off-planet, and the base is never taken.


There are many more possible match-ups, and we could go on with probably dozens of different match ups just for the heck of it, but I only wanted to give a representative sample to contrast how ground combat is handled in different science fiction sources. Hope you enjoyed these fun little what-if scenarios.


Anonymous said...

Good work sir. I really enjoyed reading this article.

Joshua said...

Forgive me if I am not as in the know as I believe myself to be, but one point you often seem to bring up is that AT-AT armour, by itself, is blaster-proof. A concept I consider false.

These large walkers, at least as portrayed where I've seen them, relied heavily on their, well, heavy deflector shields to ward off incoming blaster fire. As seen in the movie, once the walkers were toppled, and we can assume such great mass crashing down to earth like that, will have severely destroyed or damaged the walker's shield systems. After which blaster fire easily destroyed the walkers. Perhaps it is a plot-induced effect, but with this perspective I cannot agree with a lot of your assessments of blaster-proof armours as used by the Empire.

Otherwise, this was a good article, and fun to read. The analysis and comparing of various forces from many different settings and genres is great stuff.