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Building Your Mercenary Unit: Teeth to Tail

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2023 issue.

Just how many support personnel are required to keep a military unit active in the field? The correct answer is – it depends! What does it depend upon? Mostly it depends upon the type of unit that is being deployed and the technology around such a unit. The higher the technology the more efficient (generally) the support structure can be. A grav supply truck is going to be faster and more mobile than a tracked or wheeled vehicle, thus it will be able to make more trips back and forth from rear areas to the where the active units are. However, with everything else, there are limitations that grav vehicles have to face, like maintenance downtime, the additional cost of a grav vehicle over a more simpler wheeled vehicle, and even the distance from where the rear area is from the front lines. All of those pieces of information would have to be taken into account to determine the minimal number of vehicles required to support your forces in the field.

There is also the question of the philosophy behind how much of a ratio you want or need to have between teeth and tail. A mercenary company doesn’t really have the size to have much of a logistical and support “tail” (the “teeth” being the unit’s resources that do the actual fighting). But a mercenary battalion would have sufficient size to support multiple companies of active troops as well as the necessary support infrastructure. Something to keep in mind here is that most self-contained units will have dedicated logistical groups – and when deploying groups individually you might not always be able to give the necessary support teams. Why? Because these units are structured to work as a group and share support assets between themselves. If, for example, a battalion had 4 companies and only 3 recovery vehicles for the battalion, if all 4 companies were deployed independently then one company would not have a battalion-supplied recovery vehicle available to it. In this case it would either have to go without or obtain support elsewhere.

Other military concepts that most players ignore are things like supply line protection, rear-area security and the concept of a reserve. Players tend to only focus on the actual fighting, which is understandably exciting, but not all the support that goes into making the fighting possible. Higher tech levels don’t make things like supply line protection go away. You cannot pull troops off the front-line to go resupply – war does not work that way. This means supply must go to where the fighting is at, or at least very near to it. In order to safely get your supply convoy from the rear area to the front lines forces will typically (a) create a convoy consisting of multiple vehicles, and (b) supply at least some security to it. The introduction of grav vehicles to the battlefield make all kinds of things possible – including the enemy using grav vehicles deep inside your own lines and striking weak spots – like unprotected convoys. Rear-area security is also something that most players don’t take into consideration. One of the best and fastest ways to win a battle is to remove the other side’s leadership. While troops will still fight, without leadership they are no longer dangerous outside of their own localized area. And without leadership, coordination and combined-arms tactics become virtually impossible. A basic security contingent should always be added to your headquarters units (or at least some entity, including the patron, should be providing that basic level of protection. This also includes things like a unit’s maintenance and logistics area. And if they have a supply dump (forward or rear-area), that, too, needs to be provided with protection from attack – especially long-range strikes.

A reserve force can be both a simple and a complex concept. It’s simple because a unit can designate a number – say 10% – and dedicate those forces to being reserve status. This isn’t the same as using your security forces guarding your HQ or rear areas as a reserve force – a true reserve force is meant to be used to either reinforce units that are undergoing heavy attacks or else they are put on the front line whenever the enemy has broken through and is threatening encirclement and/or deep penetration of your rear area. If your forces are relatively homogenous (i.e., everything is infantry) then creating your reserve force is relatively straightforward. If, however, you have a combined arms unit, some care needs to be used when creating the reserve force. A reserve force needs to be extremely mobile and also pack a big punch when engaging the enemy. Units like air defense or artillery should not be placed in the reserve as these are already units that are behind the lines and provide a different force level/projection capability. They would also typically be able to engage targets that have broken through lines by changing where their targets or areas of operation are. Hence most reserve forces will consist of infantry (vehicle mounted if possible) and some armor (if present in the unit). Infantry units excel on the defensive, and armor units provide a shock value on the attack. Even a small group of these types of units can provide a nasty surprise to an enemy who thinks they have broken through and are now in control of the battlefield.

When taken together, the three concepts listed above constitute both “teeth” and “tail”. And depending on how the unit is meant to be deployed, along with the types of contracts they may take on from a patron, the support infrastructure needs to be included along with the logistical side of things. When combined they allow units to be both more formidable and more survivable. From a pure playability perspective a referee could simply do a hand-wave and ignore the support, or tail, aspect of a players mercenary unit. In those cases nearly the entire unit could be comprised of line (or fighting) personnel. From a reasonableness aspect though, as a unit gets larger more thought must be put into the units support structure.

When creating your own mercenary groups at least some thought needs to be given to the logistical side of supporting your unit. Smaller units will typically have to depend upon whomever is hiring them to provide support such as medical, supplies and the like. All military units will consume some kind of munitions (some more than others), and the amount of consumption will depend on the level of fighting. Things like food and water are always required, and typically the more munitions a unit consumes the more it has a need for medical and logistical support.

Logistical teams don’t really contribute to the bottom line. No patron is going to care that you have a balanced ratio of 5 support personnel for every soldier on the line. The patron’s concern is focused on whatever it is they are hiring you for, thus they are usually more focused on how many rifles and tanks your unit has with which they can use against their enemies. This is a very practical and reasonable view, and entirely sufficient if their needs are very, very short term. Unfortunately, most enemies won’t always line up on the battlefield so that you can engage and destroy them in a single operation.

During World War I, the US general Pershing came up with a famous quote – “Infantry win battles, logistics wins wars”. This maxim has been proven time and time again over the many centuries that humans have fought humans. It is just as applicable whether the combatants are Aslan, Vargr, K’kree or even Hivers (though we all know that Hivers tend to get others to fight for them, thus relieving themselves of such minor details).

[Also: “Amateurs talk tactics; professionals study logistics” – 1980, Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (CMC)]

So how would you incorporate these ideas into building your unit? Regardless of the size of the unit, some functions should be retained by the unit itself for operational and security reasons. No mercenary unit wants their patron to control all aspects of its support operations since it leaves them very vulnerable. For larger conflicts a single patron may hire multiple mercenary units, which could pit individual units against each other for spares, support and munitions. Enterprising game referees could use this as potential plot hooks, and especially clever players may utilize softer PC skills like administration as well. An exception to this rule would be if the unit always acted as a sub-contractor to the same larger unit, it could dispense with nearly all of the support requirements and deploy without worrying about these issues. This is a reasonable assumption to make, but also would then more or less tie that mercenary unit to the larger organization, which may limit its ability to negotiate contracts and pay. For PCs this is probably a way for them to start out if they are trying to form and run their first mercenary organization. The administrative side of war is typically handled by a bureaucracy that most line fighters curse for penny-pinching and paperwork. Having to perform these functions on your own does give a unit more control over their destiny – but also they now potentially become the things they have previously cursed!

Players who do want to build their own mercenary units need to first determine the extent they want control over their unit’s operations. If they choose to just have fighters and few, if any, support personnel then referees can use this lack of internal personnel to generate additional plot hooks. Perhaps their patron is unwilling to invest in adequate food supplies, so the PC’s unit ends up with 20% of it’s soldiers out for medical reasons due to food poisoning, dysentery or even desertions due to poor food. Another possible plot hook is to have support personnel who have either been contracted locally or are supplied by the patron to be collaborators or saboteur’s employed by the other side. Critical shipments of supplies always run the risk of being “lost”, or destroyed by a “lucky” enemy strike. Things like communications being intercepted and the enemy always seeming to have the upper hand despite the best laid plans are also a possibility.

When adding in the necessary support units players should take into account common sense. One supply vehicle (even a grav one) is wholly insufficient to support an entire company that routinely has deployed 70% of its personnel to the field. And if the ticket calls for combat – especially assault-types of operation – additional logistical support would have to come from somewhere. In this case a suggestion would be for the player to provide basic internal support for his groups logistics and then require the patron to provide the additional needed support as part of the overall contract. To what level of support would be up to the player to decide. And like every decision, there are tradeoffs that must be considered.

Below are some sample organizations, with a little background and reasoning for each, that helps set the flavor for why the unit made the choices it did. Such background information is also often useful for either offering up entire units for a PC to hire as a patron as well as the units that a PC’s unit might interact with – especially if the operation requires a force structure that the PC’s unit alone cannot provide.

Sanger’s Irregulars

Led by the owner/commander (Colonel Sanger), Sanger’s Irregulars is a light infantry company that heavily relies upon patrons for non-combat support. It is “Colonel” Sanger’s personal view that military units are all about soldiers fighting on the field and rear area operations are best left to “others”.

A company-sized unit would normally only rate a Captain, however as the owner/founder, Colonel Sanger gave himself the promotion he believes he deserves. He is the third son of a wealthy industrialist and the unit (fortunately) is not dependent upon high-paying contracts to cover its expenses. Still, funds are not unlimited, thus some sacrifices (such as the sixth G-Carrier usually being unavailable) have to be made. Sanger’s command unit is ostentatiously appointed inside and has a very striking paint scheme on the outside – that also makes it easily seen on the battlefield. Though this hasn’t really been an issue for Colonel Sanger since he tends to lead from the rear. Since the unit has almost no support structure, it is highly reliant upon its patron to provide logistical and maintenance support as well as being fully dependent upon a patron for medical support. Administrative support (such as payroll) is handled by the unit (but poorly since it is understaffed). Without dedicated, let alone qualified armorer or mechanical support, personal weapons, vehicle weapons and any light vehicle maintenance support is handled by each section on an ad-hoc basis. Overall the skill and morale of the unit is relatively low, but the current troopers see their primary function as a way to get paid playing soldier since they so rarely get a contract that has anyone shooting at them.

Total unit size:  78
Front-line personnel:  63
Support personnel:  15
Sanger’s Irregulars TO&E

HQ unit: 3 G-Carriers (one of which is the personal vehicle of Colonel Sanger, the command unit has the XO and comm gear crammed into it. 14 personnel (G-Carrier one has a driver, Colonel Sanger, a personal guard and an attache/steward. G-Carrier two contains a driver, the unit’s XO, and 4 troopers who also double as general rear-area support. G-Carrier three has a driver, the unit’s supply sergeant, the unit’s admin and two maintenance personnel (and their tools). The 3rd G-Carrier has been modified with large bay openings on both sides and the rear to facilitate cargo loading and unloading. None of the command units carry vehicle-mounted weaponry.

Total Personnel: 15

1st Platoon: Infantry. TO&E has six G-Carriers, but one is perennially offline due to parts shortages as the unit’s mechanics have raided it multiple times to keep the other five operational. Each unit has a driver, vehicle commander, and 6 troopers. The troopers from the deadlined unit are spread among the other five G-Carriers. Armament for each unit is a VRF Gauss gun.

Total Personnel: 48

2nd Platoon: Fire Support. This platoon consists of three G-Carriers. Two units are configured with 120mm mortars (driver, vehicle commander, 2 gunners) and the third unit is configured for air defense/anti-artillery defense and is equipped with a tri-barrel gatling laser. This vehicle has a driver, vehicle commander, and 2 gunners.

Total Personnel: 12

3rd Platoon: Armor. This contains a single “tank”, which is really just an up-gunned G-Carrier with additional armor welded to the front and sides. Colonel Sanger doesn’t believe in retreat so no additional armor was added to the rear, bottom or top. The vehicle is equipped with a Plasma-A cannon. Crew consists of a driver, vehicle commander and a gunner.

Total Personnel: 3

Markham’s Heavy Artillery

Captain Markham is a ten-year veteran of the Imperial Army and opted to set up his own unit after mustering out. He had previously commanded MRL and plasma/fusion artillery units, but financially discovered it was impossible to purchase and maintain such units as a mercenary. That drove him to build a modern tube-based artillery unit that has the range to safely operate from rear areas. And he wisely requires his patrons to pick up the cost of ammunition.

Captain Markham has tried to find a good balance between utilizing internal support and reliance upon a patron’s resources. The unit has sufficient resources for normal operations to provide logistics and other services to the unit for lower tempo operations. Regular maintenance can be done using internal resources, but the unit would be hard pressed to provide heavy maintenance to more than 1-2 vehicles at a time. Basic medical support is available for a unit that does not expect to come under regular enemy fire, though the actual capabilities of the unit’s medical staff is limited and serious issues must be dealt with by local resources.

Total unit size:  144
Front-line personnel:  78
Support personnel:  66
Markham’s Artillery TO&E

HQ platoon: Consist of 2 command G-Carriers, 4 10 Dton capacity grav cargo trucks (each equipped with a material crane), and 7 air rafts. The command G-Carriers are fitted with VRF gauss guns, and have a driver, vehicle commander, CO (XO in the other) and three support personnel each. The 4 10 Dton grav trucks have two crew members apiece and carry a pintle-mounted laser rifle. One truck is a dedicated maintenance truck while the other three are assigned various tasks. The material cranes are used by operators to load heavy items such as artillery round pallets as needed. The 7 air rafts, all enclosed, each have 2 crew members and consist of the following – 2 medical ambulances, 2 maintenance units, 2 general cargo and one field kitchen. The last few deployments have seen 1 of the general cargo air rafts being converted into the company’s mobile administrative office, though this has not been officially changed yet on the TO&E.

Total personnel: 34

1st & 2nd Firing Platoon(s): Each platoon has four firing units, each with their own dedicated ammunition carrier, a fire direction control (FDC) vehicle and an air raft. The firing units are TL-10 200mm cannons (10 Dtons) utilizing liquid propellant (selected instead of railguns for cost purposes) with pintle-mounted heavy gauss rifles. Each firing vehicle has a driver, vehicle commander and 2 gunners. Onboard ammunition storage is 48 rounds. Each ammunition vehicle (10 Dtons, crew of two) carries a standard load of 200 rounds, with a maximum capacity of 400 rounds. The FDC vehicle (10 Dtons, driver, vehicle commander and 3 operators) mount standard and counter-battery sensors. The units single air raft (enclosed, 2 personnel) is configured for general cargo and usually is found moving back and forth between the firing units and the HQ unit.

Total personnel:
1st Platoon:  33
2nd Platoon: 33

3rd Firing Platoon: Four TL-11 150mm railguns provide a deeper fire capability than the cannons (~20% further range), though operational costs are greater and the rounds are smaller. For general operations the standard tube units are relied upon for most fire mission, with the railguns being reserved for long-range strikes and counter-battery fire if the enemy has artillery capabilities. Depending on the situation, and allowing for their greater range, the railguns are sometimes placed with the HQ unit. Like the cannon firing platoons, there are four additional ammunition vehicles (1 per railgun), an FDC and a single utility cargo air raft. Crewing for each vehicle is the same as the cannon units. There are plans to add a dedicated counter-battery radar to the unit when funding permits, but for now all counter-battery fire missions are generated using the units other sensors or other observations.

Total personnel: 33

4th Firing Platoon: To provide basic air and artillery protection, 3 combination air defense/anti-artillery units have been added to the battery. Each unit is armed with a tri-barrel gatling laser. Due to the high level of automation each vehicle only requires a crew of three of 3 (driver, vehicle commander and operator/loader). Because they are able to take data feeds from the other units vehicles and their own active sensors they are often split up to provide protection to the firing batteries. The platoon has no FDC vehicle but it does have a dedicated air raft (enclosed, with a 2 man crew).

Total personnel: 11