"... For in the final choice, a soldier's pack is not so heavy a burden as a prisoner's chains ... "
- President Dwight D. Eisenhower




Mobile Infantry.  MI. 

When the term "M.I." is used, I prefer to think of the meaning as being "Mechanical Infantry" rather than mobile infantry.   A more proper term to purists might be EMI or Enhanced Mobility Infantry.  The term "mobile infantry" is a laughable misnomer because of the simple fact that infantry has always been mobile, albeit at different speeds and through a variety of means. With that said, I think some history of the common soldier is in order...

The poor soldier has marched on his feet through muddy roads, across fields of beaten down grass, up sharp rocks, over tall mountains, through raging waters, in blowing snow and none of that was counting what the enemy was throwing at him at the same time while he was doing all of this.  Infantry has always been "mobile," it's one of their strongest selling points to bean pushers and cost watchers throughout the ages. The soldier, even in the most simplest of forms and with the crudest of equipment, has always been given the task of taking and holding land or territory.  Whether this was a cave where another tribe was storing food for the coming ice age or a hardened concrete bunker where a top ranking general and his staff were controlling an entire sector of the war front from, it was the simple soldier who had to go in, fight and carry the day for those he served.

As long as man has waged war against his fellow man, some have sought to develop weapons and others have sought to develop defenses against those weapons. The ugly see-saw of weapon effectiveness vs. armor protection has been an ongoing struggle since the first man wrapped himself in a animal skin for protection from both the elements of nature and his fellow man. History clearly shows that as the weapons grew more advanced (from stones and bones to sharp sticks and eventually to machined blades) then so did the armor protection have to increase.  Sometimes, armor fell behind weapon development and the soldier suffered. Seldom was armor ever proof against all weapons available at the time and there were always weaknesses that could be exploited in any armor. The worst time to find where the weakness in your armor was located was when you were out on the battlefield engaging the enemy.

As history progressed, personal weapons and personal armor grew in technological leaps and bounds. From heavy cloth, to cured animal hides, to forged metal ringlets and articulated plates to combinations of the materials such as metal ringlets over leather, or metal plates and metal ringlets.  Composite armor is not a new concept.  Armorers have been layering on different materials for varying protection for centuries, possibly even millennia.  Craftsmen quickly discovered that different materials had different properties and in some cases one material would make up for another material’s weakness and vice versa; integrated cohesion through differential material strengths became the norm.  However, the one lesson throughout history that man learned over and over again was that adequate armor protection was not only heavy, it was expensive (and the protection to cost ratio was not always a direct one even if it was a steep one). The heavier the armor was, the more protection the armor afforded but the slower the wearer moved (thus the wearer drew more enemy attacks).  Heavier armor was also more costly, creating a balance point where a finite amount of soldiers could be equipped with a finite amount of armor and raising the question that even if you could equip 500 soldier with the best armor, was it really worth the cost?

The heavier the armor, the fewer the soldiers a political power or nation could equip.  The lighter the armor, the quicker the wearer moved, but at less overall defense.  Lighter armor was certainly cheaper and more soldiers could thus be protected but was it really cost effective?  If the best aspect of light armor was its mobility, then perhaps increasing mobility by decreasing armor was an even better solution (the best armor in the world, of course, is simply the fact of not getting hit in the first place).   Tradeoffs in speed vs. armor protection were present from the beginning of the history of personal armor and the argument is as old and as bitterly debated as armor in warfare itself.

A mounted knight with all equipment and personal armor was about the pinnacle of historically "hard" armored infantry. Mounting such a knight on a equally well armored and protected horse could give debate on the first advent of the "mobile infantry" term since the knight was almost too heavy to move far on his own accord (you certainly didn't expect a group of fully armored knights to march 20 klicks to a battle; they'd be worn out by the time they got there).  Each knight was a very costly "weapon system" to produce and a steep investment to purchase, train, equip, and maintain let alone lose in battle. Such a costly weapon system was not for the poor, thus knights were the realm of the very rich, of royalty, and sometimes even the Church. However, even an awesome mounted and highly mobile weapon system such as a French knight was not impervious to the weapons of the time and often fell to a well placed, very inexpensive arrow from an English peasant with a long bow standing well out of range of any of the knight’s immediate weapons. Training and equipping a knight wasn’t an easy or cheap process while you could teach a peasant how to use a longbow in a much shorter time.  Arrows could be made by a competent fletcher from natural materials found basically for free, and a longbow cost less than the knight’s bard and tackle, probably less than the knight’s own sword!  The first knight felled by an arrow was a historical prelude to the first tank destroyed by a cheap anti-tank rocket.

Thus came into debate the question of cost effectiveness. How cost effective was a fully equipped, fully trained knight in all of his shining armored glory if a mere peasant with a rather mundane hunting weapon could fell him at several hundred yards, long before the knight could ever reach the effective combat range of his own weapons?  The answer was "not very."  The age of heavy, hard personal armor began to wane and it would be centuries before the concept was revived again and it would be advanced technology that would have a vital part to play in the revival.

The advent of firearms, which could easily penetrate all man-portable armors, lead to the rapid demise of traditional hard personal armor.  Museum examples of late generation hard armor and plate mail armor shows dents where black powder weapons were fired at the armor by the manufacturer before it was ever sold to and donned by the wearer (aka "end user").  Armor was generally very rigorously tested by its manufacturers; indeed, the "proof" of the defensive capacity of some later designs of plate armor was a large dent found in all new plate armor suits.  This dent was from a powerful black powder weapon fired at close range against the empty suit of armor.  If the black powder propelled round didn't penetrate the armor plate then the dent was left as evidence of the armor's integrity and the armor was hand delivered to the waiting buyer.   A large dent in your brand new armor was a very good thing to see way back then!

However, as personal firearm technology began to evolve, eventually even the hard armor passed by to the side in humble deferral to the penetrating and wounding power of man portable artillery. For many decades, it looked like personal armor would never catch back up with the unbelievable leaps in technology that small arms were enjoying. So called "bullet proof" vests were actually more properly termed "bullet resistant" vests and were designed not to fully stop a bullet but rather to defeat and use up much of its energy and velocity thereby turning a killing wound into a merely inconvenient wound The darker students of warfare may have noted that a soldier that is killed outright is an immediate loss but a wounded soldier takes several other personnel to care for the wounded soldier thus a wounded casualty ties up valuable resources that could be better used in other areas.  Some have even gone as far as suggesting that the lack of development of personal armor was an answer to that problem.  If you didn't equip your soldiers with things that would keep them living in diminished capacity, you wouldn't have to worry about resources being allocated to support them when they were reduced to operating in a diminished capacity.

Rigid and full body hard armors fell to the wayside, eclipsed and replaced with newer and stronger yet lighter 'ballistic cloth' materials.  The ancient Mongols wore protective body armor woven from silk, several other cultures also were noted in history as having cloth type material for armor.  The introduction of Kevlar, a fiber that was ten times stronger than steel, allowed the introduction of armored vests with optional inserted hard or rigid material trauma plates (commonly called 'chicken' or 'pansy' plates).  Accompanying ‘soft’ pelvic armor, affectionately coined as ‘diapers’, were available to protect the pelvis from shrapnel, but were seldom worn by the soldier. This new ‘soft’ armor, constructed of heavy weave material was cutting edge at the time of its introduction, the best armor that modern technology could provide or so the manufacturers believed.  In reality, the new armor was cumbersome, heavy, uncomfortable, and just damned hot to wear, especially in a tropical or humid environment like the jungles of South East Asia during the Vietnam War.    Cumbersome, heavy, uncomfortable, and hot.  Four things that a soldier did NOT look for in any form of armor.  Most soldiers who were issued 'bullet proof' vests used them to sit on when riding in transports (to protect from stray fire coming up from the ground or from mines that the vehicle might roll over), or left them behind entirely due to the fact that their immediate discomfort far outweighed any possible future protection.

Like any object used in the conduct of war, the experience earned (often the hard way) and the knowledge gained from the use of armor on the battlefield led to more advanced designs and material breakthroughs.  Lighter materials with higher tensile and material strengths did much to bring personal body armor up from behind in the weapon vs. armor effectiveness argument but still personal armor did not meet or exceed the protection level required to protect against most modern man portable weapons.  While modern body armor was often proof against small arms such as small caliber, low velocity pistols most armor was ineffective against even light rifles and the high velocity rounds that they fired.  The opponents of body armor were quick to note that no army equipped its soldiers with just small caliber, low velocity pistols!  As armor designers scratched their head and poured over their formulas, gun designers kept rolling out smaller, lighter weapons that fired faster, farther, more accurately, and had higher velocity projectiles. Black powder gave way to smokeless powder, then to advanced chemical propellants, electrothermal propulsion systems and finally to electromagnetic mass acceleration.   Armor, always dumb, remained dumb for a long time even after the advent of ‘smart’ weapons to the battlefield.

What was needed was a 'smart' type of armor to defend against the so called 'smart' weapons of the battlefield.

The introduction of power armor, one of the most recognizable icons of the 21st century art of war,  is most often associated with several brutal police actions that occurred around the world just prior to The Last War, most of which were nothing more than Paneuropean proving exercises for things to come, but this belief itself is largely a misconception and highly inaccurate.   Others would say that the various types of power armors were direct descendents of the Sariman personal exoskeleton work suit concept that the Japanese pioneered in the early third of the 21st century.  The reclamation of land from the sea by Japan was instrumental in creating and evolving the personal exoskeleton and the control systems that allowed it not only to operate under hazardous conditions but also the accompanying subsystems that allowed it to do so.

Power armor was, however, actually first introduced during the first part of the 20th century, during World War I.  The concept of a powered armored suit was then known affectionately as a ‘tank’.  This first example of a self propelled suit of powered armor could not only protect several soldiers at the same time and deliver devastating amounts of firepower but it could go easily and safely where no individual foot soldier could; over barb wire, into withering machinegun fire, across ditches, etc.   This early form of powered armor allowed the soldier inside to negotiate the battlefield, under harsh and deadly conditions, and to attack the enemy using superior force, exceptional firepower and pinpoint accuracy.

But this new form of armor surprised weapon makers for only a very short time and soon weapons were introduced which would defeat even this startling new form of mechanical armor.   Man portable weapons. As the individual infantryman slogged across the muddy, bloody, battlefield, the race to create a faster form of self-powered, self-propelled armor was on for the advantages of a type of armor that an individual infantryman could wear, that would both protect him and increase his mobility was easy to see. During the course of the warfare of the 20th century the tank got smaller, lighter, faster, and more powerful. Specialized tanks appeared. Variants were created that fulfilled different mission requirements.  For a while, infantry and armor became separate again as the vision was lost and concepts were refined through the design board and tested in battle. Armored infantry carriers appeared with the first APCs and IFVs, allowing many individual infantrymen to move and fight (sometimes at the same time) but these new designs suffered the same disadvantages as a tank did; big, slow, and too costly to fall to a cheap one shot anti-tank style weapon.

The armored 'suit', however, continued to advance.

Various improved defenses were introduced; better armor materials protected against new types of armor defeating rounds. New power plants increased speed and range thus helping to enhance survivability and response time.  Technology became lighter, more compact, thus reducing the size of the armor itself dramatically.  Electronics played a key role in battlefield engagements. Infra-red and thermal imaging allowed fighting at night and in low-light conditions.  Image recognition and microprocessor enhancement verified targets at extreme range or dubious visual conditions.  Computerization and onboard artificial intelligence reduced the need for a large human crew.  Automated loading and munitions handling further reduced crew size.  Stabilization allowed firing of weapons while on the move and at battlefield speeds. Laser rangefinders and ballistic computers reduced the chance of error for first shot on target engagements. Enclosed climate control systems and complete NBC gear allowed the crew to be as comfortable as was possible in the harsh environment of the ‘then’ modern battlefield.

And the tank got smaller.

And lower.

And lighter.

But the crew still remained a constant. Some positions were relegated to computer controlled systems, but the minimum crew for a modern battle tank remained at three; driver, gunner (later weapons officer), and commander. Even with extreme levels of computer augmentation the number of crew never got below two (for the Combine Wagner class light tank). The dream of a one man tank seemed to be stalled at the limit of a two man crew.

As the crew positions merged and coalesced due to the introduction of increasingly sophisticated computer control and augmentation, the weapons of armor took on multiple roles as well. The main gun evolved from dedicated big bore rifled cannon to smaller, higher velocity smooth bore guns often with electrothermal enhancements and finally to electromagnetically accelerated mass drivers. These smaller smoothbores had much higher rates of fire especially when mated to high speed autoloaders.  These new smoothbores fired farther, fired more accurately, could accept a variety of ammunition from high explosives (HE), high explosive anti-tank (HEAT), flechette (beehive), chemical, biological, hyper velocity fin stabilized sub caliber penetrators (HVFSSCP), and even rocket assisted and ‘smart’ munitions. Laser guided artillery rounds began to appear, and even direct fire rounds fired by tanks could be designated onto the target by hand held laser paint guns used by the lowly infantryman (later built into power armor suits as standard equipment). The variety of new ammunition and the smarter guidance systems allowed the tank to become a stand off weapon system as well. A tank could stay concealed, have an infantryman designate a remote target with a laser and then the tank would fire a full hand off capable (FHOC) round which would lock onto the laser signal and adjust its flight to the painted target. With infantry working close with armor the combined arms doctrine gained even more strength as both the tank and the infantryman became a lot more sophisticated.

And deadly.

Working in a team only increased results on the field of operations. Combined arms rapidly grew from a good idea to an established doctrine to a required key to tactical success.  Soon, the whole battlefield grew linked, all forces merged in a data net like a spider web. Any unit could benefit from data gathered by another unit, and could call upon resources at any instant as required. Everything was shared at the speed of information. Critical successes on the battlefield early in the Information Age, of digital forces engaging forces that had less advanced or not at all implemented combat webs were both astonishing and sobering.

The information combat web (ICW) was a powerful advantage but there were those who sought to remove that advantage. The development of new jamming technologies was terrifying to officers, commanders and generals who had come to rely on the free flow of information between tactical units. Wide area screening became standard in use and parts of the ICW would simply dissipate when units entered the field radius of an active area effect jam screen generator. Information began to be transmitted via laser, line of sight, and bounced off of orbital satellites as well as low / high flying drone units in sight. The first use of small, robot drones appeared for data collection and coordinated unit communication. Drone tenders became the latest ‘must have’ vehicle in military inventories, providing an armored mobile 'nest' for drones to recharge and deploy the data that they may have gathered but had been unable to transmit.

As ammunition grew more specialized, the weapons also adapted to fire standard hand-off capable fire and forget TAC missiles through their barrels thus greatly increasing the deadliness of the armored vehicle. Those that could not fire missiles through their barrels usually mounted reloadable box style launchers or canister racks on the exterior hull or turret. TAC missiles were small, fast, cheap, reliable, and above all else ... lethal. Multi-stage boosting, advanced terminal guidance, attack from all aspect, top down attack angle, and sub-stage enhanced penetration munitions only made them even more so.  Guided missiles became an important part of the battlefield, and like the knight and peasant of centuries before, an expensive tank, powerful though it may be, usually fell prey to a single infantryman. Like the peasant with his long bow, facing the charging knight, the infantryman of the 20th century, concealed, out of range of the tank’s weapons, could fire a single self propelled anti-tank missile that would destroy the tank easily and quickly, often before the crew even had time to know that they were under attack let alone scream.  As anti-tank missile technology grew at an astounding pace it looked like the tank was headed the same way as the armored knight; despite all of its advantages it had just become too easy to kill the multi-million dollar units with a weapon costing a tiny fraction of that amount.

The self propelled armored unit, like the knight of old, looked to be headed for extinction.

But the human spirit is a hard thing to put down, and war being the great contest that it is, armor never truly faded away no matter how easy it was to kill tanks and how hard it was to earn the money required to buy and maintain them. As man poured more and more of himself into his violent endeavors, he realized that he needed more and more protection. Armor designers started thinking along different lines and they added a new capacity to their product, a capacity that their product had never before had; intelligence.

Armor became smart. As much so as the weapons of the day if not more so for while the weapons were smart in a sense that they could identify, track, and destroy a given target, armor had to be smarter than the weapons employed against it. Armor had to outthink its enemy, protect its wearer, provide enhanced mobility, enhanced sensory perception of the battlefield, gather / filter / and present tactical information and much, much more. Tanks were good cross country vehicles but they were not fully all terrain. Tanks had great armor and weapons but were comparatively slow. Ground Effect Vehicles (GEV) had the speed but not the armor density or large weapons of a heavy tank.  It was the old trade off of speed vs. protection again.  Heavier armored and armed GEVs were not as fast and while faster on open terrain they had disadvantages in denser terrain that tracked or wheeled armor often ignored. The GEV in its many variants ruled the open battlefields of the early 21st century especially the plains of Neurope and the vast open deserts of the Sahara Combat Zone. Speed and electronics made it a killer, but where that speed was limited (like in an urban environment), the GEV fell prey to thicker skinned and better armed opponents. When the GEV could not maneuver or maintain a speed advantage it often fell to slower, better armored and armed units.

The first personal battlefield tactical computers were squad based ‘backpack’ units used to direct the members of the squad and to provide increased tactical data. Special combat suits were worn that not only helped to protect the wearer from combat and damage but also kept the wearer comfortable with microprocessor controlled climate control, full NBC protection, and offered a variety of electronics from visual and auditory to communications. These new combat suit equipped soldiers still wore ‘soft’ armor, but it was a quantum leap over the ‘bulletproof vests’ of their predecessors. Bio-toxin and radiation absorbing materials appeared from the industrial heavy production sectors and were rapidly incorporated into battlefield use. Memory plastic and high density lightweight synthetic crystal variants provided ballistic and impact protection to some degree as well as a reasonable amount of protection from shrapnel and spall.

Squads began to be equipped with smart squad support weapons, rapid fire, low recoil, high impact, man portable autocannons that could damage light armor units and destroy lesser armored foes either singly or in groups. The personal weapons also grew smarter, and merged functions through shared designs. Assault rifles used caseless ammunition, large quantities of it, and added a built-in 20mm multi-purpose assault gun to the 6mm general purpose assault rifle. Laser range finding / target painting, liquid crystal optics, low-light visuals, thermal imaging, gyro stabilization, synthetic barrels, free floating actions, fire on command logic circuits, built in IFF circuitry, and a host of other advances all worked in coordination to turn the individual soldier’s rifle from a piece of cold military hardware into the best friend they ever had. With the introduction of various specialized ammo for the 2cm multi-role projector built into the weapon the infantryman was given the capacity to fire armor piercing rounds capable of damaging or disabling a light tank.  Laser targeted, guided, and triggered anti-personal munitions became available with select as well as on-demand and variable in-flight fusing.  The infantryman could carry, fire, and guide 'smart' munitions from their individual infantry "rifles" which had grown to be so much more now than just rifles. Grenades and disposable anti-tank rockets grew smarter as well as far more compact.  Man portable anti-tank explosives were capable of hugging the ground and incorporating limited NOE flight modes to defeat active, intelligent point defense countermeasures, often coming in ‘under’ the radar of the target vehicle and under the maximum deflection of the PDS.

Still, protection for the individual soldier was not what it was hoped to be and all that equipment was still heavy because the soldier was still having to hump all of that gear around where ever they went. A squad of infantry could still take and hold ground but they had to be transported there by armored personnel carriers and supported by a variety of other units such as MASH and logistics supply squads.  Despite the increase in smart armor, infantry still moved under its own power meaning that more often than not the infantry arrived tired, or fatigued, or low on ammunition, minus some operatives due to combat losses, etc. Combat drugs and training could only make up so much difference in what was simply the hazard of being an infantryman and the disadvantages of using a ‘soft’ unit on a tactical basis to bolster your forces.

By the early ‘20’s, the individual tactical computer was man portable, powerful enough and small enough to be equipped on a individual scale and light enough to be carried by every infantryman in the squad on either their belt or their wrist (or just over their shoulder). The climate control system got smaller and more efficient, even working somewhat to reduce the individual infantryman’s infra-red and thermal signature dramatically thus affording the infantry a degree of stealth. Special ‘smart cloth’ provided on demand camouflage for the soldier, giving the infantryman an advantage long ago learned by the chameleon; if you blend with your surroundings you are harder to see and the animal kingdom learned long, long ago that things that are harder to see inadvertently become harder to hurt or kill.

The individual electronics suite also became smaller, lighter, and more powerful. Gone were the bulky ‘space helmets’ of just a few years ago, in their place were comfortable, form fitting battlefield helmets sealed against the environment and providing a wealth of individual data inputs. Head Up Displays (HUD), visibility enhancements, auditory boosting, and communications suites allowed the individual soldier advantages never before applied on a personal basis.  While the bulky 'space suit' type engineering began to be replaced by more streamlined designs, the individual combat armor of the infantry man began to more closely resemble an armored spacesuit than it did any previous form of personal defensive armor.  But the armor was still ‘soft’, even with a basic overlay of some rigid monocrys protection for the arms, shins, thighs, pelvis, and chest, it was still mostly soft armor, and the basic infantry rifles of the day had little trouble penetrating even the best personal armor carried…

The desire for a small armored unit that could go anywhere, with a reasonable speed, was easy to transport, easy to maintain, easy to build, cheap to purchase, and reliable became an almost impossible dream. Until someone remembered the lowly infantryman…   What was really needed on the battlefield of the 21st century was a one man tank, something … small, that could go anywhere, hold any ground, protect the wearer, and be cheap enough to be ignored by big anti-tank weapons, but strong enough to kill infantry and other armor if given a fair chance. The outlooks were not promising until the advent of high density power storage devices, electrically affected myomers, and compact advanced RISC semi-sentient processors, all that appeared in one ten year stretch starting at 2021 to 2031 AD courtesy of the Japanese and their desire to reclaim land from the sea.

The battlefield conditions of The Last War saw the introduction of the power suit as a way to protect the infantryman to a suitable degree. The first true power suit models were crude industrial grade exoskeletons strengthened and modified for battlefield use with armor plate, NBC systems, some electronics, and dedicated weapon systems.  They relied on a multitude of physical feedback from the user.    Later models, starting with the third generation of the Japanese personal exoskeleton suit, benefited from a direct digital link between the wearer and the suit itself.  This was usually supplied via a form fitting one piece jumpsuit known as the ‘Echo’ suit, named due to the fact that it actually picked up the wearer’s movement and electrical neural impulses and translated these into algorithms that the computer could understand and respond to. The computer matched suit performance on a ‘demand-need’ basis based on inputs from the E-suit. Paneuropean suits were not as complex, and relied on a more primitive, physically invasive surgical procedure of ‘plugs’ inserted into the hard bone near nerve clusters. The Paneuropean MI veterans were easily spotted after the war, they had the scars of the plug removal (not all the time successful and some botched operations left the wearer with a severely damaged CNS) or simply by the fact that the plugs were still present (and socially discomforting). Electrical overloads in Paneuropean suits were major causes of fatally ‘shorting out’ the user and their central nervous system. Not so with the Combine and their E-suit approach to power suit operation.

The Echo suit had sensors allocated all along its intricate construction, long sensor strands were actually woven into the material of the suit. Cooling and heating conduits were woven into the design of the Echo suit and plugged directly into the power suit for life support and waste disposal / recycling functions. A catheter was included in what became known as ‘the diaper’ that was worn as part of the E-suit. Wearing the suit for extended periods of time required a special mentality and humility only gained after much training. Claustrophobics need not apply to MI detail. Special gelatin and air bladders were located at critical pressure points to be used by the suit during high-G operations. These bladders operated much like a G-suit, inflating to prevent loss of blood and pressure to critical areas such as the eyes and brain of the user. Throwing a three quarter ton power suit through a high jump could under some conditions cause the wearer to black out. A reservoir of ballistic gelatin was housed in the suit, and this liquid was pumped into the suit by several turbo impeller pumps located in the extremities and by a master pump in the center torso housing. A special cooling / heating cap was worn, along with tubes which were inserted into the nostrils that supplied clean, cold air and stimulants when required. The cap included speakers for each ear with surge and hearing protection provided to augment the bone induction mastoid transmitter / receiver that was part of every Combine MI soldier's indoctrination.

The neural weave of the cap added to the overall control of the power suit and provided additional input to the onboard control system. A throat mike picked up the wearer’s communication, and was duplicated with a pair of mastoid pickups glued on with a special paste to the wearer’s jaw line. Various sensors in the cap were used by the medical subprocessor to monitor the wearer’s brain status, and a host of other psychological and neural functions critical to suit and wearer operation.

Special hypo and intravenous collars were incorporated into the design of the E-Suit at all joint and nerve center locations. These collars were used by the medical subprocessors to maintain the soldier’s operating capacity and were fed by electrical and chemical inputs that attached inside the suit. Information from the E-Suit could be directly accessed by a corpsman from outside the suit through one of the power suits many shielded diagnostic ports or directly via datapulse. The E-suit was generally manufactured in unit colors, with unit insignia and heraldry emblazoned on it. Customization of E-Suits was allowed to some degree among the ranks, usually following a unit’s background as well as allowing for personal interpretation and expression, as long as the customization did not reduce the effectiveness of the E-suit. Since most MI troopers wore their E-Suits even out of their armor, it soon became easy to spot MI troops who were ‘going soft’ for a while, or ‘taking a break from the iron’ as the term became known.  Flashy E-suit designs became a way of representing both individualism and unit affiliation or devotion.

The actual power suits were usually maintained in a specialized powered combination lift / maintenance rack array which weighed fully twice as much as the power suit itself and occupied three times the cubic volume.  Utilizing these units, a technician could perform routine maintenance, upgrades, or repair battlefield damage to a power armor suit with relative ease.  These maintenance units were often mounted by squad (a group of five racks), generally two squads were assigned to a single modular armored barracks building.  The low, squat buildings, only a small part of which existed above ground, were often called "mausoleums" or "crypts" by the non-armored soldiers due not only to their design, but inside the suits were stored in a slightly reclining position, almost as if they were 'dead'.  Lit by various luminescent green and red lights, the effect of visiting a funeral parlor was only heightened.

Entering the power suit was accomplished by a multiple segment and a split seam seal on the front. The legs and chest split open in a clamshell-like array, allowing the user to back slowly into the suit, insert first one leg, then the other, and finally strap into the suit. Some referred to it as the reverse of being born.  Inserting the arms into the suit brought the suit to full online mode (as opposed to both legs and torso in being a mechanic diagnostic setup level of operability). The user sat in what came to be called the ‘saddle’. This was a pressurized gel filled and pneumatic cushioned pelvic support for the user that cradled the center of mass and provided the ideal position from which to operate the heavy suit.  Like the G-suits of old, the saddle was pressurized in that it could adjust on demand to fit the comfort of the user and to pad itself up to absorb any violent movements. The ‘stirrups’ held the feet of the wearer, and a set of ‘chaps’ enclosed around the thigh and shin of each leg, providing extra sensory input from the wearer to the onboard computer and its software movement litigation subroutines. A pair of pedals were located where the user’s feet rested which were used to control various degrees of motion as well as speed and the use of the suit thrusters. Pushing one pedal down sent the suit moving sideways rapidly in a controlled thruster aided slide. Pushing the opposite pedal stopped the motion and even sent the suit in the exact opposite direction if enough force was applied to the pedal. Pushing both pedals down and instantly releasing produced a limited, low level jump assisted by the thermal plasma enhancement system of the jump jet array. Pushing the pedals down and holding them down produced a high altitude jump used to cover lots of ground at once or to clear tall obstacles.  Locking both pedals down fully into their military indents allowed the suit to maintain thrust and produced a limited flight capacity.  Flight trim was accomplished through a series of body movements, computer integration and by thrust manipulation (which veterans referred to as "controlled plummeting").

The power suit equipped soldier inserted their arms into special ‘sleeves’ within the suit which constricted to fit snugly against the bare arms and provided extra sensory interface . Both the chaps and sleeves aided in maintaining consciousness during high speed jump jet assisted maneuvering as they could constrict even tighter to aid in blood pressure management.  The power to weight ratio of most suits (especially the lighter models) was such that a full power jump from standing still could produce G-LOC or Loss of Consciousness through Gravity ("blacking out").  MI soldiers learned early that their suits were capable of incapacitating them or even killing them if they were careless in the power that they wielded.

Special sensors located at the fingertips and microswitches were used to access various suit functions. The interface was designed to be as intuitive as possible. Moving a finger or tapping gently could bring up command menus, switch channels on the com system, snap open the suit seal, etc. The full range of suit functions often required hand, foot, finger, and toe coordination, much like the ALT, SHIFT, and CTRL keys of a keyboard allowed a user to access various functions of a computer system. The interface setup was duplicated and had an emergency backup installed as well but the primary command interface of the power suit relied on simple voice commands given by the wearer.  The onboard could differentiate many short cut macros for complex actions and the wearer could even create new macros as desired or required.

The power for the suit was supplied by a self contained super fluid reactor. The micro nuclear power source was fueled by one and a half liters of processed hydrogen and deuterium in an armored environmentally controlled tank. The Johansen style reactor was a heavy water based stellerator type reactor, triple safety interfaces, and was incapable of ‘going critical’ or exploding like a bomb. It used a figure 8 shaped coil to heat hydrogen to a plasma state, and then the thermal energy was used to generate electrical power for the suit. Damage to the containment vessel simply purged super hot plasma and shut down the system, with a subsequent loss of power and hydraulics. Sometimes, damage to the containment vessel vented the plasma into the fighting compartment with expected results. There was an extensive crystal battery backup and storage capacity, giving the infantryman the ability to ‘limp’ home in an emergency, provided the home base or help wasn’t more than twenty kilometers away and that no combat conditions would be encountered.

The strength augmentation of the suit was provided not only by heavily filtered multi-valve compressor equipped hydraulics using fully synthetic fluid with a very high boiling temp, but also by electronically activated artificial myomer musculature and heavy duty reinforced servos. The ‘muscle structure’ of the power suit worked in conjunction, carefully, integrated towards overall performance with the natural design of the human body. The entire musculature operated through semi-logarithmic force multiplication; push a little and you used your own strength, push a little harder, and you got enhancement from the suit musculature. Push a lot, and the full enhancement of the suit stepped in. A individual wearing a power suit could perform some truly amazing feats of physical strength and endurance. The suit hydraulics allowed the user to lift twice the suit weight (usually 1.5 metric tons) and to push or pull up to twice that amount for short distances. A squad of power suit equipped infantry could push a heavy transport off the road easily (as happened in the Iron Mountain incident). It was often a common sight in depots to see MI helping to carry heavy objects or containers, right along with the wheeled, the tracked, and the walker lifts. A power suit equipped soldier could crush brick, stone, and even light armor plate in their armored hand, punch through a reinforced wood or cinder block wall, kick a hole in a lightly armored unit or tear a door off of a civilian ground car and throw the door a city block.

The musculature of the suit was installed in triplicate, allowing for a high degree of damage to be taken before a power suit was rendered immobile or paralyzed. The subprocessors, four of them, operating off of the Onboard, were stepped to route muscle functions to the first available array. Thus if the first and third myomer was torn in the shoulder assembly and one torn in the forearm assembly, the subprocessors would automatically reroute the request for movement and strength augmentation to the second myomer in the shoulder assembly and the second myomer in the forearm assembly. Battlefield repairs of myomer packs and strands was possible by the wearer alone using tools supplied with the suit but this required for the most part that the user un-suit to work on the damaged components. This was not always possible. Most companies included at least two infantry who were trained for ‘in suit’ field repairs of other suits.

Each suit was armored with many layers of composite materials. The interior of the suit and the wearer were protected by a layer of micro-porous anti-bacterial / anti-spall ballistic cloth. Vital equipment was protected with individual segmented and easily replaceable modular component armor wrapped in a Hybrid Ballistic Weave (HBW) cast. The HBW was a very strong material, twenty times stronger than steel on average and itself a byproduct of the molecular engineering and study of arachnid silk. Spungrown to perfect tolerance, the HBW cast proved to offer excellent protection and resistance from low velocity fragments, most man portable rounds, and other battlefield debris.

A weave of dedicated radiation absorbing material (DRAM) was added to the HBW layer for further protection from background and residual radiation. A thin layer of modular aligned high density plascrys 1cm thick was the last layer of defense and was applied over all other components and shrink fit to seal any gaps. The outer armor consisted of dedicated 2cm thick BPC plates which rode on a comfortable ballistic gel sandwich. The plates were articulated for full freedom of movement without sacrificing any individual location armor protection. In some theaters, a 2cm APAF Additional Protective Ablative Foam layer could be applied to the various armor plates. The 2cm APAF armor was designed to collapse and shear off, taking much of any projectiles energy away with it, thus reducing the velocity of high speed fragments and rounds noticeably. The material was not always available, and when it was, time and situation didn’t always allow it to be installed. It was difficult to install in the field, and required that the suit be placed in a diagnostic rack and three techs spend the better part of thirty minutes applying the molds and spraying on the material on a suit by suit basis. This material was later refined for use on the larger cybertank treads and was commonly referred to as ‘blisterskin’.

The very nature of the battlefields of The Last War dictated massive amounts of data be available to the individual infantryman at any second in time and in a format that could be both understood and acted upon. The design of the electronics of the power suit were an exercise in ergonomics. The onboard dedicated computer was non-sentient by every means of the word, but the individual infantryman was hard pressed to tell the difference. Such was the capacity to respond to the user and provide feedback and input that most infantry took the onboard as a ‘ghost’ in the machine. Controlling all aspects of the power suit, receiving input from over a hundred and seventy-five dedicated sensors, the onboard fiber optic computer system was one of the most advanced of its kind. Operating with a speed of 250Ghz, using up to six gigabytes of volatile Program As Necessary (PAN) ROM, and having a storage capacity of 200 gigabytes, the onboard was proof against EMP and battlefield environmental conditions. Its armored housing allowed it to operate under heavy battlefield conditions including shrapnel, shock, overpressure, heat, and stress. The onboard gave the infantryman full data handoff for a variety of sensors and sensory input. Bondings between the onboard and the power suit operator were common. Tales of infantry with damaged suits refusing to be issued another suit unless the old onboard was pulled and installed into the new suit were common place on both sides and were the studies of several military psychiatric reports.

The HUD of the suit was updated two hundred and fifty times a second with information from the onboard. Targets were searched for using a variety of sensory inputs, from visual comparison, motion table review, thermal imaging, micropulse radar, LADAR, unit handoff signal (varied to input), acoustic, and even olfactory. Each suit was fully capable of linking to any Intellites orbiting above for updates. Most updates were broadcast wide band protected so a blanket effect went out to all suits operating in a given area. Targets once identified were called up from data logs and full information on the target was available, including any recent information or damage as noted by other units. Updates on new units were rapidly sent to the front line units and information spread at the highest speed on the digital battlefield.

The HUD was the portal to the battlefield for the soldier. It provided compact yet precise and easy to use information on all current conditions. Radiation count, direction, speed, wind speed, wind direction, toxin count, bio toxin count, suit integrity, onboard supplies, munitions, suit condition, user medical condition, and a host of other information. A integrated targeting computer allowed for lead calculation, projectile speed, individual hit location targeting, and deflection. Tactical displays in both vector and high resolution visual were available, as well as infra-red imaging, thermal imaging, movement sensor display, micropulse radar with selectable range bands and an advanced communications suite with integrated IFF were all available. The optics of the suit were liquid crystal microprocessor controlled. The special fluid optics were configurable by the onboard to meet demand and were capable of telescopic resolutions of 1000x2000 power, up to 1000 increments at up to 2000 power magnification with window within a window optioning. Field of view remained constant due to microprocessor controlled and AI-defined ‘blend rendering’. Information for the visual display was rendered based on micropulse feedback, and filled in from onboard data when not available. Total resolution was 1m at 2km visual, enhanced further by any of the options such as HRIR, thermal imaging, or tactical readouts. Voice command for the suit was standard, but redundant control switches for the various displays were duplicated in tactile switches located throughout the suit. The wearer might orally command the suit to switch to Tactical Squad Channel 429 or slap their knee forward against a micro switch and then rotate their big toe to dial in the number. Everything was set up to be intuitive as much as possible, so that the suit became less a piece of armor, and more like an extension of the soldier, an indispensable extension that provided surveillance and information gathering capacity from total concealment.

Sensory input and augmentation included not only visual redefinition of the scanned area (allowing microprocessor manipulation of details and sensor information for razor sharp images under all conditions), but also acoustic tracking. The enhanced acoustic sensors of the suit could detect and identify units by the various sounds that they made. The sound of a enemy light GEV was different in pitch and tone than a regular GEV or a GEV-PC. Sounds detected were matched to thermal images, image overlays, true 3D models, and a variety of other data, all in a microsecond to identify an enemy unit. Range was determined through complex algorithms involving a coordination between acoustic range finding, laser range finding, and visual comparison through microprocessor controlled liquid optic arrays. The liquid optic array was cryogenically cooled with the visual processor located in the central torso, up and behind the wearer.  The entire virtual sense array was called a 'tank' by the soldiers, for the first impression one got after climbing into a suit for the first time was that they were in a fish tank looking out.   Multiple arrays can be called up by voice or auxiliary input, and stacked or resized or arranged as required by the user.

Each power suit was also equipped with a pair of micro-drones. These small RPVs were housed in a ‘hanger’ on the back of the suit and could be launched singly or together. The drones, no bigger than a man’s hand and roughly spherical in shape, were powered by a silent internal aerodyne system, and included a multi-sensor along with a compact hyper pulse transmitter and encoder. Using a drone, the onboard could spread the suit’s presence out to several hundred meters. The internal crystal storage power of the drone allowed it to loiter on station for upwards of two hours at a time, returning to the suit and recharging its internal batteries from the suits own power supply. Drones were common at depots, and were considered expendable. A drone could operate for up to 8 hours on a single charge, if it did not spend a lot of time in flight. Thus, when squads went to ground for extended periods of time, the doctrine usually called for each suit to send out a drone to establish a defensive perimeter, providing an early warning and greatly extending the range of the suit’s and the squads sensor presence. Drones were rotated as required. Drones could also be handed off to other suits, and the onboard was fully capable of controlling and accessing up to twelve drones easily. Drones from KIA suits automatically homed in on the nearest friendly suit and provided data for that onboard system. The onboard of a suit was capable of ‘rotating out’ any spare drones to keep all drones currently calling a suit ‘home’ charged and maintained on a regular basis. Some infantrymen even went into the field with more than two drones, drones were often carried as spare parts in squad equipment, and many infantryman welded extra drone storage racks to their suits for the carrying of additional drones into the field.

A 3m dual wire antenna emitter was housed over the shoulder. Upon need, the normally slack wire would be energized with a slight electric current which would cause the memory plastic embedded wire to go rigid thus providing a stable aerial to transmit data. A compressed air charge blew the wire ‘float’ into the air, and then the charge would cause the extended wire to go rigid. When not needed anymore, the charge was slowly lowered, causing some elasticity in the wire, and the antenna was reeled in. The second wire was included as a backup in case the first wire was lost or cut.

A powered high speed motor equipped periscope style array was also located over the shoulder of the power suit. This unit could extend a multi-sensor up to one meter above or to the side of the suit, allowing the user to stay in cover while looking over a hill, out of a gully, or around a corner of a blasted building in an urban environment. It also allowed a user to look in second story levels of buildings or stay submerged under water and maintain a very small presence above the surface. All suit sensory input was available through the periscope system and infantrymen quickly learned how to use this device to their advantage. Spare periscopes were included in the armor-tech shop at all MI service depots, and the periscope was designed to sheer off with damage rather than absorb the damage and possibly carry damage back to the suit. All input leads from the periscope were breakered for feedback protection and the entire periscope assembly was modular, being easily replaced as a whole in the field or at a Class C (or better) service depot.

Control of the suit was simple as the onboard was set to mimic perfectly the movement of the human body, given input from the wearer’s E-suit. Suits were custom fitted to their wearers, but some degree of flexibility was built into the overall design. The memory plastic of the insulating pads could configure themselves up to +/- 15mm in density to adjust to a new user. More than that, and the suit would have to be gutted and configured with new restraints, control relays, and insulation to adapt to the new physical requirements of the user.

Movement in the suit duplicated the wearer’s movement exactly, up to the full range of human limb travel and traverse. The onboard gyroscope was equipped with a backup and a ten second forward cache for uninterrupted movement and balance.

For rapid movement across large distances or to clear obstacles and battlefield debris, as well as for advanced maneuverability, the suit was equipped with a pair of miniature ultra-high speed super compression turbofans housed in an armored nacelle array in a semi-retractable cradle assembly. The fan itself was an advanced carbon alloy design with one hundred individual mounted variable pitch ceramic blades to relieve stress on the operating parts and allow faster spool up. The fan was suspended on a frictionless magnetic bearing and the turning motors were advanced design rotary turbines with the direction of thrust determined by physically moving the entire fan array within an armored gimbaled housing.  They worked equally well underwater, moving water through the blades just as easily as air, providing aqua jet type propulsion in full wet mediums.   Smaller versions of this turbofan array were used in tactical drones.

Armored screened intakes over the back of the suit sucked in ambient air, and used part of the plasma heat exchanger to super heat this air into overthrust usable by the power suit though dumping the superheated air into the mixture generated a massive thermal spike readily visible on tactical target acquisition sensors. The ceramic material of the fan blades was proof against the high wash temp for extended periods of time but general practice was not to use the overthrust potential unless necessary as it allowed the enemy sensors a huge advantage when scanning for targets thermally. The microbursts of thrust provided by the jump jet array could be applied to each side individually, at angles, and even straight down, allowing the wearer to generate ‘jumps’ of up to 50 meters at a time. The ‘high jump’ system actually approached limited flight, trading operating the fans at their maximum capacity and RPM to produce sufficient thrust to lift the heavy suit into the air. Most MI learned that short, low, quick ‘bounces’ were the way to cross terrain quickly. Rapid use of the thruster system, if the wearer was not properly prepared, could cause black out due to acceleration alone! Instantly accelerating a three quarter metric ton piece of hardware to over a hundred klicks an hour generated some serious G forces. Fights among power suited infantryman was often a balance between maneuvering, jumps, sideways jumps, and red outs or black outs! Jumps are coordinated initially by the user, monitored by the onboard, and final landing is handled by a joint effort, with the suit onboard and gyro working to aid the wearer in ‘setting her down’. The entire wearer ‘brace’ was mounted on shock absorbing cylinders and webbing, so that the suit took almost all of the G-shock of landing and impact. Extensive use of ballistic gelatin bladders, air bags, and powered restraint harnesses kept the wearer from being thrown around during a hard landing. Damage, nearby explosions, nukes, etc. can cause the gyro to lose its lock and the suit may ‘tumble’ in flight. The flash of a power suit equipped soldier making a jump, even a small one, was very visible on thermal imaging and infra-red sensors…

Operating in the suit was at the same level as for unsuited personnel, but the life support provided full climate control as well as complete protection from NBC elements. Due to the suit carrying ‘all of the weight’, and with the advent of automated movement algorithms and the ability to engage an ‘autopilot’ function where the suit could ‘walk’ to a destination by itself with minimum aid from the wearer, the amount of fatigue was greatly reduced. For once, the infantryman had it relatively ‘easy’ in their line of work.

A closed air recirculation system was good for 72 hours of operation. Filter packs were good for 7 days of continuous use and were often changed from either field packs or field depots. The design of all filters was such that one could be inserted while the original was still in operation, then the old one removed once the new filter had been seated. This allowed for ‘hot swaps’ of filters in full NBC and battlefield conditions. Extra life support was available in plug in modular packs, to allow operation for up to double the standard time limit on closed suit ops, but these were bulky and rarely used except in the extreme.  The onboard climate control system could keep the soldier comfortable in a variety of conditions and temperatures from the heart of a raging firestorm to arctic wastelands in sub zero freezing temperatures.  Filters in the system screened out micro-particulates and dust.

Concentrated high energy ration paste, concentrated high energy fruit juice, and a variety of other battlefield operation intensive liquids were available to be included in the suit. These rations were stored in a paste format, and the plumbing was spread throughout the suit with redundant supply caches. Reloading of the onboard ration paste and fluid supply was via a special port and a compressed air canister which injected the paste into the supply system where it was processed and made available for the soldier’s use. While not fine cuisine by any standard, the ration paste was palatable, and could keep a man in operating condition for a long time while out in the field. Self heating / chilling solid food packs were available for unsuited personnel at depots. Suit cuisine was often described at best as ‘baby food’. It had many more colorful names, none of them as flattering.

Medical care for the soldier was administered through a dedicated subprocessor of the onboard. This subprocessor was connected to the echo suit directly through over 300 sensor feeds. Every aspect of the soldier was monitored, from blood / sugar levels, to adrenaline levels, to heart rate, brain waves, brain state, body temperature, etc. and adjusted medicinally through a variety of hypodermic injector collars contained within the echo suit itself, located at all major nerve clusters and joints. Combat drugs were often carried which would both increase sensory input and decrease trauma warnings to the brain for short periods of time. Such combat drugs heightened the suit wearer’s responses dramatically in combat situations. Combat drugs sought to enhance certain aspects of a soldier’s physical state, decreasing reaction time, decreasing nerve response, increasing pain threshold, speeding up the flow of information to the combat centers of the brain, blocking out feelings of hunger, fatigue, thirst, pain, bowels, etc. The military pharmacists were artists in their field, but some of them were very dark artists, some bordering on the realm of sadism.

Side effects of prolonged combat stim drug led to possible habitual addiction in private life (a class III infraction to be caught with military grade stimulants in any civilian sector of the populace), decreased effect requiring higher dosage, decreased duration of dosage (due to a natural immunity buildup to the stimulants), and some physical / mental / nerve base related trauma. The most common Combine combat stim was known as White Tear. White Tear was a combat drug that accrued natural byproduct residue in the pore and sweat glands of the face and in the tear ducts of one or both eyes. During use of this drug, the sweat content appeared slightly milky and thicker than usual. Long term users of "White Tear" were easily recognized by a minor milky white discharge from one or both of the tear ducts in the eyes, often for no apparent reason, and often in very non-combat and / or social situations. The effects were sporadic, and could occur for years after initial saturation dosage was reached. Saturation dosage for this effect could be reached by a chemically clean soldier within six weeks of heavy combat in a power suit. Reports of battle damaged suits lethally ‘overdosing’ their operators by mistake and/or damage to the medical subprocessor were also substantiated during The Last War.

Paneuropean combat stims were also notorious for physically and neurological damaging the nerve centers of the user through prolonged or heavy use. Some suit designs were notorious for this due to the dosage levels induced by some of the more aggressive minded military leaders. The common slang for military drug users was "Juicers". The quality control for the Paneuropean stims was not as high, and since the Paneuropeans could build three suits to every one Combine suit, and they had plenty of soldiers to fill them, the overall long term effects of the drugs they used was never really a concern. The high number of chemically disabled and CNS / brain damaged Paneuropean MI veterans attest to the horrible fact that Paneuropean leaders were interested in nothing but results, at any expense.

During The Last War, many types of MI suits were mass produced by each side.   The Combine were the most advanced designs. They were, on average, lighter, with better mobility and far superior electronics. The amount of protection was not as high as that of some of the same class Paneuropean suits, which traded fanciness for brute force, but the electronics more than made up for that bit of inconsistency. The Paneuropean suits were bulkier, with less electronics, however, this allowed the Paneuropeans to crank out two to five suits to the Combine’s every one suit. Combine MI squads consisted of five operatives; a sergeant in a command suit, four enlisted in standard suits.   Paneuropean squads consisted of ten operatives, of which two were usually officers. The Combine infantry was better trained, the Paneuropean infantry often was not. Where the Combine infantry worked with their suits, the Paneuropeans allowed the suits to do most of the fighting and the human user was simply a necessary part of the design.

The Combine designs were among the best fielded during The Last War, and Allied design firms worked hard to refine their designs into fully integrated multi-role combat specialty units whereas the Paneuropeans seemed to try to invent a new suit for every odd mission, most resulting in poor designs and bad setbacks.   However, it wasn't until the Combine introduced the SLICS- Squad Level Integration and Countermeasures System- ("Slicks")- that the mobile infantry squad really came together as a viable force on the battlefield.  The SLICS was a complex system of squad level LOS and indirect networking among the high performance tactical computers that were part of each MI power suit.  The SquadNet integrated each individual MI power suit equipped soldier into a operational unit and doctrine solution that was greater than the sum of its individual parts.  Utilizing SLICS, an entire squad of power suit equipped soldiers could function as one greater effective unit, instead of as many lesser effective individual units.  What one soldier knew or could see, sense, smell, detect, the entire squad knew equally well.  All information from one suit or soldier was instantly available to every other member of the squad.   Hand off of munitions was done flawlessly between individual soldiers, and with the squad dedicated tactical drones, SLICS and SquadNet became indispensable additions to the Combine MI units.  Entire squad level coordination of point defense against indirect fire munitions and TAC missiles was coordinated through each suit's microprocessors, giving instant information to the entire squad.  SLICS also worked to integrate the EMS of the squad into one homogenous source, working to blend the squad into the background and 'phase' it out of enemy targeting systems reach.  Suit emissions were carefully monitored by the SLICS and individuals were electromagnetically 'bled' selectively to match their backgrounds at a constant rate, monitored both locally by the individual suits which 'buddy checked' each other several hundred times a second, to the remote tactical drones which did 'removed' views of the squad to make sure that no EMS spikes were readily visible to the enemy.  Target reference and engagement, target spotting, and integration into the mass of data which made up the 21CB became the norm.  The entire squad worked flawlessly and seamlessly as one mobile unit, pooling resources and operating on a squad level instead of a individual level as had been the case before SLICS.   Efficiency went up dramatically, as combat losses decreased.

SLICS was the Combine name for their squad level system, the Paneuropeans had a similar system that was bulkier, termed Cerebus.  Whereas the Combine SLICS was an integral part of each individual suit, the Paneuropean Cerebus consisted of two additional pair of dedicated processors, carried by two members of the squad, integrating the other members in a somewhat more reliable but also more cumbersome array.  However, as the Combine SLICS was integrated into the design, the loss of one suit would not bring the system down, merely reduce the amount of information and resources available to the other nodes on the network.  With the Paneuropean Cerebus system, the loss of one or both of the dedicated tactical processors would cause disruption in squad level operations. Combine MI snipers soon learned to target the Paneuropean Cerebus equipped suits early in the engagement, and the unique EMS spike of the additional Cerebus processor showed up well on tactical squad level scanners.  A special component shielded array was developed by the Paneuropeans mid way through the War in an effort to reduce the EMS signature of their Cerebus units but it only made the target outline greater.  The ultimate solution appeared late in the war, equipping each Paneuropean MI suit with a smaller version of the Cerebus, called a Hectonchires unit.  Apparently joint development of this device was carried out by both the Paneuropean and the Chinese to counter the much more sophisticated Combine SLICS though no records exist of this.   Maybe the Chinese managed to copy the Paneuropean system as captured Paneuropean suits with the Hectonchires system proved easier to copy than the Combine models...  In any case, the addition of the Hectonchires unit made a noticeable hump on the Paneuropean units but spread the EMS signature out among all units so that Combine snipers could no longer have easy targets to take down the squad level integration of the Paneuropean units.  The term "Hunchback" became popular among Combine MI to describe their late war Paneuropean counterparts.

Of course, if SLICS was good, then multiple integration of the SLICS network would be ideal.  Early attempts at integrating more than three squads into the SquadNet failed.  The hardware and accompanying software just wasn't up to the task of coordinating more than about 15 units in such a fluid dynamic environment.  SLICS continued to be refined, even after the idea and the technology was copied (to a lesser and more primitive manner) by the opposing forces... New versions of the SquadNet software improved upon the strengths of the previous releases, and worked hard to remove any bugs (not too many of them fatal...).   Version 5.0 Charlie was the most stable platform, and existed in V5.4 Tango and V5.9 Sigma releases until the collapse of the Combine.

In the closing decade of The Last War, Combine designers finally hit upon the breakthrough that they had been trying for.  New hardware, faster microprocessors, and a more open ended software language (SCRIBOL) was introduced which allowed the development of the PLIEADS- Platoon Level Integration and Enhanced Autonomous Defensive System  or "Plee-ah-dees".   The designers of the SLICS system found that the network of squad level integration could be carried further.  With the development of the Charleston-McAllister Type V microprocessor operating at a room temperature 400 gigahertz, or a cryogenically cooled 635 gigahertz, the option to integrate multiple SquadNets became a viable reality!  The size of the CHAR/MCALLI T5 processor made it easy to integrate into the various Combine power suit designs.  An additional blister appeared on the back of most suits, housing the modular cradle which in turn held the CHAR/MCALLI T5 processor and its cryogenic cooling array.  The designers were amazed at how much more efficient the SquadNet and SLICS became with the addition of the CHAR/MCALLI T5 processor integrated into the design of the network.  It was found that up to three full platoons could be coordinated together in a manner similar to SLICS and remain cohesive under long periods of high stress combat time.  The first use of the PLIEADS system was with the RDF forces, much to the surprise of the Paneuropean forces at Chad and Summer.  The Paneuropeans tried many times to copy the performance of the PLIEADS system, but were unable to as it remained a Combine strong point.  Combine power suits sold to client states did NOT have the capacity of PLIEADS nor were they upgradeable (some said that the pre-PLIEADS templates were still being used to manufacture export suits...) and the PLIEADS had a particularly viscous self destruct sequence to keep it from falling into enemy hands... one that most MI were not aware of, and those who did find out, were very uncomfortable with.

Each Combine soldier carried typical sidearms, usually a M4C or M4C2 4mm APMD Anti-Personnel Mass Driver for close in work on soft or lightly armored targets.  The M4C 4mm was standard issue to all MI troopers,  fed from a 1000 caseless round disposable cassette, of which five spare cassettes were carried by each trooper as part of their standard kit.   The hardware and software of the Colden 4mm allowed it to be fully integrated into the SquadNet system, and made the M4C a valuable point defense tool as well as a precision select fire option up to and including highly accurate single shots placed against softer targets of opportunity via the enabled sniper mode.

All squad members carried  a dedicated remote weapon system based around a four shot TAC missile launcher (DRWSTAC4) and the accompanying four individual light TAC missiles with full hand off capacity.  The DRWSTAC4 systems were useable by any member of the squad and were logged as squad available resources in SquadNet.  Two might fire a TAC missile from a launcher that was assigned to Five, if that was the nearest missile launcher available to deploy a munition at the target that Two was painting, and so on.

The emphasis on SLICS (and later PLIEADS) was on squad level / usable weapons rather than individual weapons.  Weapons that would work, on a squad or platoon level, were what was called for.  A very tall order indeed and out of all of the arms demonstrations, only two companies managed to produce weapons systems which met and even exceeded the Combine's Military Requirements; AGM (American General Motors) and NORINCO (NORthern INdustrial CO-op), a Quebec based startup manufactory specializing in heavy weapons, rolled armor castings, using  custom templates and dies produced by the Trans-SouthAm manufactory in New Rio D.

Standard field arm for squad positions One, Two, and Four was the tried and proven M35 DIWS Ibarra mass driver repeater.  The Ibarra, produced under contract by American General  Motors (AGM), was a very well balanced weapon system, designed from the start as a integral part of the SLICS system.  Squad positions Three and Five were designated as support slots and as such, were equipped with the big, semi-portable Thompson T4D spread bore fluid to gas injected pseudo-recoilless mass repeaters which were fully integrated into the SLICS and PLIEADS system.

The Ibarra was equipped with the SCRIBOL language system, and integrated easily into any position, meaning that one soldier could be disabled or combat casualty and if the Ibarra survived, it could be picked up and utilized by another member of the squad.  The M35DIWS was capable of adding its own electronics abilities to the squad as a whole, and the three squad based M35DIWS worked to enhance not only squad detection ranges, but also squad defense and point defense capacities.

Each squad was composed of a "advance point watch" (APW) position occupied by a soldier wearing a standard suit with intel/recon packs attached.  In 2072, the standard suit was replaced in each squad with a lighter, more mobile scout class power suit.  Three drones were dedicated to the APW position, and assigned to the support of the intel/recon packs which the APW solider humped with them.  The APW was responsible for plotting the best points of movement, identifying signs of the enemy, looking out for ambushes, and keying in all possible points of cover that the squad might could use.  Most of this was done automatically by the  point watch support (PWS) wearing a standard suit and acting as backup and guard to the point watch, two heavy weapons operators and support specialists (HWOSS) wearing enhanced suits, and a Corporal, in charge of the whole squad, wearing a command suit.  Drone distribution was usually three drones for the Corporal, three drones for the point watch, and two drones apiece for each of the other suits.  The point watch, point watch support, and Corporal all carried Ibarras.  The heavy weapons operators and support specialists carried the big Thompson T4D weapons systems.

The modular design of the Combine power suits and later the Paneuropean power suits allowed a variety of additional modules to be plugged into the suits according to mission.  The term 'modular' was somewhat of a misnomer, as the modules could not be installed or removed short of a barracks and an hour or two, but the design did allow the suits to be rapidly updated and even modified to some extent based on mission specific profiles.

The ubiquitous power suit and its variants was the closest thing that generals got to the universal dream of a one man tank. By the end of the 20th century, infantry was already eclipsing the MBT in terms of cost and battle field effectiveness. The infantryman of the late 21st century was not much different than his predecessors, but his equipment was like nothing seen in history. In order to survive the super fluid nuclear battlefield of The Last War, a infantryman had to be extensively and expensively protected. All sides researched various forms of AHAS or Advanced Human Amplification Systems. These doctrines and technology branches would not only increase the survival of an individual soldier on the battlefield, but would turn one power armored man into a hundred non-powered soldiers from just a hundred years ago. A single MI soldier, properly trained, and equipped with the standard power suit and all associated equipment and weapons, was easily the match of a 20th century First World platoon of normal infantry. The downside was, the MI trooper cost fully half as much as a 20th century First World infantry platoon!  The one man tank, a dream realized on the 21CB, was simply good old force multiplication at work, at least in theory. In actual practice, very few non-MI or non-power armored soldiers survived The Last War completely intact. The 21st century battlefields were not for the thin skinned or the slow.  The 21st century battlefields belonged to the armored and the quick.

The weapons of warfare drew upon mythical names.  The Cybertanks were known as OGREs, other models as Fencers, Dopplesoldners, Ninjas, and the Japanese even had their own classes and names for their particular versions of the RDF CLAWS.  The infantryman was no different, and probably more colorful.   Faced with the ever increasing complexity of his power suit and his battle kit, the poor infantry looked way back into the mists of legend to draw colorful names for their equipment.  The cybertanks may have been called 'OGRES', but the powered armor of the infantry had a more colorful name.

Soldiers in full suit were often called ... Trolls.




I found an interesting news article in the August 2001 edition of Popular Science magazine.  It was under the MILITARY TECH area, and the article is reprinted here for your review.


TOO MUCH ARMOR weighs a soldier down.   Too little and you might as well hand out bull's-eyes.  But the advent of "exoskeletons" may offer the best of both worlds.

These wearable machines are part of an initiative by the DARPA Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency called "Exoskeletons for Human Performance Augmentation"  Over the next five years, six contractors will develop self-powered devices that amplify the speed, strength, and endurance of ground troops.  One company is even putting together a one-person vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle.

"The military has made numerous improvements in war-fighting technology over the past hundred years," says program manager Ephrahim Garcia, "but the capability of the human is still the limiting factor.  These [exoskeleton] technologies could make our ground forces more capable of survival and more lethal than troops today."

Exoskeletons will have to be lighter and more flexible than the military's last attempt at a wearable machine- 1500 pounds of stiff-legged scrap metal called "Hardiman."  Another challenge will be to develop lightweight power sources for the suits.  - Trevor Thieme