Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Holistic Mumbo: A Guide for Mobile Warfare for the new guys

Heya all, with all the new guys entering into the hobby and such and some Dark Eldar players to boot, I decided to revamp my old article about mobile warfare that I once wrote for Tau Online Forums (writted around the early days of 5th edition, where I correctly predicted that Mech list will kick ass for the rest of the edition while the rest of the world say that Nob Bikers will kick ass) for 6th edition. To be honest nothing much changed, save that of flyers and thus the guide is still very much relevant in our 40k games today.

With 6th edition we can see that they are taking 5th edition's essence and putting it up a notch for 5 out of the 6 missions are objective missions. If you stick around, you will not be able to take those objectives to win and there's even a secondary objective where if you have a scoring or contesting (denial) unit inside the opponent's deployment zone you will get a bonus Victory Point. Mech may be hampered by the new edition of the rules, but the general rule of the game still applies. So come along and and explore the interesting world of Mobile warfare.


Since time memorable, methods of warfare revolves around two principles; Maneuver warfare and attrition warfare which are the focus when it comes to achieving victory upon the battlefield either by killing or capturing an objective. Maneuver warfare understands that both attrition and also maneuver are both important elements of warfare and this principle is pushed forward by militaries which are smaller, more cohesive, better trained, or more technically able than attrition warfare counterparts.

Mobile in 40k
Now in 40k there are several types of mobile armies, and they are

1) Vehicle – eg: Flyer Necrons, Mech Dark Eldar
2) Infantry – eg: Jump Pack Blood Angels, Biker Armies
3) Hybrid - eg: Mech Tau

And their abilities can be broadly categorized into;


Now I would like to explain how I categorized them and their strengths and weaknesses so here goes.

Major subtypes

In a Mobile Vehicle army, This means that everything is either vehicles or are in vehicles. Mech Dark Eldar belongs here, and so do other kinds of vehicle heavy mech armies. The advantages of a Vehicle Moblie army is that with their armour value, they are able to negate most anti-infantry weapons and also negate any close combat elements, but in return, they will often lack in numbers and if the vehicle is down, their effectiveness are cut down rather drastically.

In a Mobile Infantry (Not to be mistaken with Starship Troopers), this means that there are a lot of very mobile infantry units coupled with very little or no vehicles at all. Pure Biker armies are perhaps the best example for this.
The advantages that one can get from a Mobile Infantry list is that they are able to utilize cover and terrain better, have numbers on their side and they in effect negate anti-tank capabilities of an opposing army. However their main weakness are often anti-infantry weapon and also they are exposed to the elements like any infantry does, which in this case close combat weaponry and the likes.

In a Hybrid Mobile, this means that there are fast infantry alongside many vehicles. Mech Tau belongs here. The hybrid mobile army is like any other hybrid army, takes the best of both worlds of the mobile list and be a more balanced mobile list.

Now, as with all Mech armies they optimized upon controlling the movement phase. Some of you might wonder what is the point of controlling the movement phase as the killing are all in the other phases? This is because the movement phase is the only phase where it does not rely upon chance, or in our case dice rolls and thus can be considered the most reliable phase that we can depend on. Now that we covered the basic fundamentals as to why Mech armies dominate the movement phase, now we have to understand that movement alone is not enough. I mean you want to kill and or capture objectives, and for that we need the other two phases; the Shooting phase and Assault Phase. Now the question is what phase should the Mech army dominate in?

For some armies, the shooting phase is a more powerful phase as more often than not the assault phase is their bane. Necrons and tau fall into the shooting mobile armies due to their low initiative, and their shooting are prodigious to say the least. As for others, the close combat phase is a more powerful option due to the fact that their shooting is not very good and/or their close combat weaponry are way superior. Nob Biker armies are perhaps the main army that utilizes this mechanic.

For some, they are so balanced with their close combat and their shooting that they can do both at once, thus able to be very balanced in almost all phases of combat. Mech Dark Eldar belongs here as the army is able to hit hard in all phases of combat.

Now that we know what kinds of mobile armies are there in 40k, now we will go to the fundamental elements of mobile warfare.

Application of mobile warfare.
I bet by now you are quite overwhelmed by all the different types of mobile that I have brought forth right? Do not need to worry, for they all have a similar framework that they work with.

Now contrary to attrition warfare, which is defined by Webster as "the act of weakening or exhausting by constant harassment, abuse, or attack", the basic premise of maneuver warfare is basically to keep an enemy off-balanced by gaining an advantageous position relative to the enemy.

In Maneuver warfare, there are several important elements to keep in mind when one is to understand the whole idea of maneuver warfare. War theorist Martin VanCreveld identifies six main elements of maneuver warfare:

* Decentralized command
* Flexibility 
* Combined arms
* Surprise
* Schwerpunkt
* Tempo 

And thus with these points, I will explain the certain aspects of maneuver warfare, and I will start first with Decentralized command, followed up by the rest.

1.Decentralized command

In the simplest term, this means that all elements of an army must know the overall intent of the entire battle plan, as the constant changing battlefield will often out pace communications. With this maneuver warfare seeks that one must be fast enough to adapt to the ever changing conditions of a battlefield and thus able to act independently while achieving the main goal.

2. Flexibility

According to VanCreveld , flexibility means a military must be well rounded, self contained and redundant. Flexibility in warfare is of paramount importance as this enables a fighting unit to adapt to the ever changing battlefield ans is able to fight against any adversary without the need of slowing down the entire efforts of the entire army. However, this is not to say that the unit will be standing up against the opponent alone, for they need the support of other units to achieve perfect synergy, which will be explained further in combined arms.

3. Combined arms

Combined arms is defined as an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different arms of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects. Though the lower-echelon units of a combined arms team may be of homogeneous types, a balanced mixture of such units are combined into an effective higher-echelon unit, whether formally in a table of organization or informally in an ad hoc solution to a battlefield problem.

Here every unit is not alone in their struggle, as infantry protecting the tanks, the tanks protecting the infantry since they would need one another to fight effectively and ultimately, survive the day.

This is due to a principle called the Lanchester Square Law (which holds true for all types of warfare), which states that the combat power of a combat unit relative to the relative combat power of an enemy of a given size, all other factors being equal, is the square of the number of members of that unit.From this it is derived that twice as many tanks will quadruple the relative firepower — relative that is, to the amount of firepower the enemy has per member of the friendly unit; one could also express this by saying that their relative punishment from enemy action is reduced four times, which is the same thing — as not only their own absolute number is doubled, but the number of enemies relative to each of their own, is thereby halved also. Thus, concentrating two divisions into one point and attacking generates a far greater force than is achieved by spreading two divisions into a line and pushing forward on a broad front.

In simple proper English,  it goes like this and I will use the tank example for it is easier and more in line with the topic;

A single tank is as combat effective as another tank of the same type, but two tanks are not twice as effective, but instead it is 4 times as effective. The reason being that a single tank will not only outgunned an opponent by twice, but also will be able to kill twice the number of enemies, hence it being squared. In addition, the enemy's ability to counter the threat is reduced by 4 times, hence their anti-tank ability square rooted.

In even simpler internetz speak: Spam is good. This is why most armies have duplicates of two or more units.

However, even though the units are all working together, if they are faced by a force that are equal or superior to them in anyway, they will have a hard time fighting as well. Thus in order to defeat a force that are equal or superior to them they need to have something up their sleeves that will enable them to bolster their considerable combat strength and that is when surprise comes into play.

4. Surprise

Whoops wrong surprise!

The element of surprise is always an important part of warfare, whether it is just introducing a new unit or doing something very unconventional. This is because something that the opponent did not expect will always give you the advantage straight on, as they will have a hard time countering your ‘surprise’. This can do alot of things as it enables you to gain the advantage.

However surprise alone will not win you the day, for once the surprise is sprung, it will be very hard to surprise the opponent again and if the; a) The force used in the surprise is unable to do lasting damage and/or b) Doing it at the place where the surprise element will be severely negated, you can be rest assured that it is another way of saying that your plan backfired.

5. Schwerpunkt

Schwerpunkt, translated as focal point is an aspect of warfare first explored in the Blitzkrieg where the basic premise is to focus everything at a single point and well, break it with superior force. Remember the physics law by Newton (guy who revolutionized physics due to a damn apple dropping on his head?)? Well, for those who have not remembered their high school physics, they are;

1.A physical body will remain at rest, or continue to move at a constant velocity, unless an unbalanced net force acts upon it.

2.The net force on a body is equal to its mass multiplied by its acceleration

3.For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

A schwerpunkt works in a similar manner. With an objective in mind, once you started moving it, you can never stop in warfare, for any moment of hesitation will kill you. And with that momentum gaining up, it will achieve a greater penetration force as a result of Newton law #2. Thus a Schwerpunkt is akin to the first two laws of Netwon’s, for a Sckwerpunkt is a point where you focus the strongest force to break it down.

The goals of this were the deepest possible penetration and minimal engagement, while avoiding an enemy counterattack. This often means that the focal point is often the decisive movement of all maneuver-based armies, as it means that you throw in whatever you have into the point and never give in, because if you break through, the enemy will crumble while if you fail, you will be dead within seconds. It is a much more elegant way of saying ‘get rich or die trying”.

However, most people who achieve this breakthrough tend to forget Newton’s third law; For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Most often than not, everyone have a back-up plan for this kind of things, and they can counter the momentum of the blitz with a beautifully executed counterattack. 'GODAMIT!!!!!!!' would be what some of you will be saying right now once you heard about this downer ending.

Wait a second everyone! This is when we go back and look at the element of surprise. Why let him countercharge when you can counter-countercharge? This will give him another surprise and thus bring the whole pace of warfare back to you.

This finally leads up the final part of the 6 elements of maneuver warfare, which is tempo.

6. Tempo

Tick to the beat

Tempo in this case refers to the similar to the idea of tempo as it is used in trading card games, as well as to the chess concept of initiative where a player can gain the advantage by setting the pace of the game. With mech, it is important that you get this and earn this pace. You ca do it by mainly two ways;

1)You force your opponent into following your pace

2)You break the opponent’s pace of battle

For the first one, maneuver warfare gives you this advantage as you can choose where and when you want to fight. Compared with a static army,who often have to rely upon the actions of an opponent, a maneuver army have to be a little more decisive and aggressive from the head-start, even when they are on the defensive. If a fast and mobile army is negated from its speed, it will often have a fight that ultimately it will lose. If you are stuck into a corner, you have to break out and gain back the momentum of your speed as speed and maneuver is your forte. Besides who does not like controlling their opponent?

Yeah, I tend to make any armies that oppose me my bitch.... :-P
As for the second point, most adversary whether they like it or not, often have their own pace that they adhere to. With that they expect that any type of warfare would be waged at their level where they feel most comfortable. However, when you are playing mech, you can not slow down, and for that you need to break the adversary’s pace and thus force the adversary to follow your pace of battle. Most often than not, most people will not be able to adapt that fast and thus will often be at a disadvantage.

However, this can also be used against you as well, as they will try to maximize upon their strengths while minimize upon their weaknesses. So with these this is the basic concepts that you have to remember for any type of mobile warfare.


Well, I hoped that you enjoyed this guide to mobile warfare. For the new ones into the hobby, I hope I have shown the fundamentals of using a mobile army, and for the vets I hope I have widen your knowledge upon the matter.

No matter what kind of mobile platform you want to be, the fundamentals of a mobile army is the same; speed is power.

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