Take the 2-minute tour ×
Science Fiction & Fantasy Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

In real life warfare, gaining air superiority is very important and often a deciding factor.

However, in Warhammer 40k, most ground combat is in very close range, but still all participants can freely airdrop soldiers, vehicles or other material. Actually, it is a perpetual war and the ground is a big meat-grinder, while reinforcements are constantly brought in by the millions from off-world. Do their dropships just peacefully coexist in the air or in orbit? Maybe it's just a simplification, and there is a war raging in the air, but the players are leading only the ground combat. In this case, how can it be that no one ever achieves air superiority and denies the other parties their dropships/bombardment/whatever coming from above?

I understand that this is for providing a competitive balance for the players, but was this ever addressed in canon?

share|improve this question
3  
same deal in the Mechwarrior universe. How do you take out a metric s*ton of tanks? Fast moving planes with bomb. How do you do it in every fantasy setting? Other mostly inferior tanks. –  sarge_smith Jan 4 '13 at 19:58
4  
There is actually a whole separate game dedicated to the space combat. Battlefleet Gothic –  eidylon Jan 4 '13 at 20:16
1  
In an all out battle between two (or more) factions how do you stop the hundreds or thousands of drop pods, transport craft, asteroids, teleports, jump packs, etc that could used to deploy troops from orbit during one ground campaign? –  Xantec Jan 4 '13 at 20:25
1  
Are you asking more about traditional air superiority (which eidylon's answer covers) or orbital superiority? Your question seems to be confusing the two. –  Xantec Jan 4 '13 at 20:30
1  
In Warhammer 40k: Dark Crusade one of the critical locations you could capture was an Advanced Space Port, giving your ships a 'tactical advantage'. All this meant in-game was that you could have your dropships drop your army anywhere on the map, as opposed to leap-frogging from area to area. It also mentioned how the skies were filled with an on-going air assault, but none of the factions had an advantage over the others (stalemate pretty much) –  Robotnik Jan 7 '13 at 2:49

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

No, air superiority was an afterthought in the Warhammer Universes. In early versions of the game, it was barely considered at all. Does it exist in the more modern versions? To an extent, but it is far less of a functional element than all of the pages spent on the ground combat aspects. The novels make a much greater effort to consider air power than the game ever has.

There is less concentration and emphasis around air superiority in the Warhammer 40K universe than there is in our universe. As a player of Warhammer and Warhammer 40K and a military man since the mid 1980s, I along with my friends have questioned the reason for a lack of air to ground combat weapons.

The reasons for this boil down to this:

  • Air combat if played with the same level of technological effectiveness as it possess in modern warfare would completely render the game and its mechanics unable to be played.

  • In modern warfare it is a truism, he who controls the (high ground) skies, controls the flow of combat. Ground troops are far too vulnerable to air to ground attacks (ATG) and ATG attacks can disrupt even the most well-entrenched troops if the bomber is not concerned about collateral or environmental damage. (See: Bunker Buster)

  • Even with advances in anti-air weaponry, controlling the air still matters more than almost any other tactic in non-nuclear warfare.

How did we get to this point where a game about futuristic warriors resembles combat between Civil War combatants lined up on the battlefield?

  • Warhammer Fantasy, which appeared in 1983 was a game concentrating on ground combat which consisted of mass troop combat, massed unit combat and some limited vehicles which functioned as tank-like substitutes. While there are some flying units (note pegasi-like units on the lower left) flying units were in short supply and did not bring the air-power paradigm common to modern warfare today.

enter image description here

  • When Warhammer 40K was created in 1987, much of the game's mechanics were transferred to a "new" game with new units (but the overall game play did not change much; a player familiar with WH could play WH40K with an afternoon of training) and as a result, flying units were again just simple units on the battlefield with slightly modified mechanics.

enter image description here

  • What did not transfer over (or was not included in the design) was the overwhelming superiority air power brings to the current modern battlefield. In addition to the lack of air superiority, armored vehicles, mortars, and artillery were also slighted and made far less potent than they would be on our battlefields.

  • Explanations varied widely, from, the knowledge to build certain types of weapons were unavailable due to the periods of darkness which occurred during the Empire of Man to the effects of such weapons would be limited due to the robustness of the soldiers on the field during their time.

A bolter is the standard issue weapon of the Space Marines. Armed with this weapon which has a round larger than a .50 caliber rifle, they are unable to slay the common Orc with less than three rounds at any range other than point blank. With that said, munitions of our world might prove far less effective against even a small Orc invasion (which would never be less than a million units).

enter image description here

E.G. Bolter ammunition (a bolt) is primarily a solid .75 calibre slug. Conventional solid slugs utilise a propellant charge contained in a casing that, when ignited, forces the bullet out of the barrel. In contrast, a bolt is self-propelled; it features its own integrated solid propellant that propels the bolt at high speeds, essentially acting like a miniature rocket. The propellant itself is shaped to control the bolt's direction and speed.

  • Considering the nature of the threats, there may be some truth to the statements but as an ex-military person who has seen the devastation wrecked by flying war machines such as bombers and attack helicopters, I might question the validity of such statements. But I have to concede the destructive potential of the weapons of the 40K universe mean aircraft would need to be incredibly tough to survive any sort of retaliation from the ground. (Even our hardened and armored vehicles would be ripped to ribbons in seconds.)

Since Warhammer 40K was first developed the developers have slowly tried to shoehorn in real military tactics, weapons, tools, ideas and the like with varying levels of success.

  • Some things unbalanced gameplay and were removed, others escalated powers and required entire factions to be redesigned from scratch. Though it can be frustrating to see a game being redesigned before your eyes, some of the additions are well worth the effort when they are seen in play.

  • Considering what the game was trying to portray (an age of heroic combat) this may have been a design decision since nothing disrupts massed combat like a cluster bomb dropped from orbit.

  • The other mindset is the battles in the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K events are supposed to be separate moments in space and time where in this particular instant, there is no artillery raining down death, there are no bombers available for YOU to call for fire support. It's just you and the never-ending, slavering legions of Orcs (Tyrannid, Eldar, Necron, etc) between you and your objective.

  • Battles played in the game are a moment where there is no superior technology only superior grit and fortitude which will win the day against an unstoppable enemy. No cluster bomb can give you the opportunity to play out a battle like that one. So for the length of a particular battle, they simply don't exist. I'm okay with it.

enter image description here

share|improve this answer

There are most definitely aircraft involved in the 40K universe. For examples of the Imperial Guard ones, see this article, and here are some examples of the Space Marine ones.

They actually were involved in one of the Dawn of War video game expansions. The Soul Storm expansion introduced air-to-ground attacks (albeit in a very limited fashion). They were also added to the Warhammer 40,000 table top game.

So they definitely are in the universe canon.

As for what they do, the descriptions of the various craft will shed light on that. For example, the Lightning's role is described as an "air superiority and reconnaissance fighter". The Thunderbolt is also listed as an air superiority craft.

There is also a heavy bomber, carrying "thousands of kilograms" of ordinance, which should theoretically be able to take out or cripple even a Titan or Baneblade tank.

Many of the craft are equipped with lascannons and autocannons which would make them good for strafing ground targets as well.

So they seem to cover pretty much all the roles you would expect them to. There probably isn't a lot of attention paid them though, because the focus of the franchise is really on the ground troops and combat.

There may be more focus on them in the massive extended universe of novels and stories. I certainly haven't read all or even most of those.

share|improve this answer
    
While I appreciate the answer, I don't think it really answers the question. I was not asking "are there aircrafts in WH40k?" (it's stated in the question that there are, and are used mostly for transport and a bit rarely - but used - for bombardment) but about gaining air superiority. The question is not whether they exist, but what they do. –  vsz Jan 4 '13 at 20:13
1  
See the updated answer. –  eidylon Jan 4 '13 at 20:25

I have never played the tabletop but reading most of the novels, I have come to understand that air power is, while essentially great, is not useful as in expense/performance case because in most fiction when something that can be described as an attack occurs, it does so with a large fleet in orbit battling another large fleet in orbit while at the same time pumping troops to the planet. The air support elements only seem to cover ground troop advances and retreat back to a regional planetary base of the operation. In almost all novels, the aircraft only support minimally or die by the lot in advances.

If, on the other hand, the space power around a planet is final, then air superiority means something where each faction fights for the airspace but with the advantage clearly on the side of the one with space superiority. Also I remember reading about the ships being in orbit but in different parts of the planet. Hence, minimal confrontation.

Also, if I remember correctly, in eisenhorn air power failed remarkably causing some situation I don't want to spoil for other people.

To sum up, in the novels at least, air superiority is a much lesser arm of space superiority. I don't think it is a relevant factor in w40k universe(novels). Unless space is not considered of course. Maybe it's the same idea for the tabletop as well.

share|improve this answer

In Epic (which is the large scale version of WH40K) there are Titans which are huge fighting machines the size of skyscrapers and also airborne attackers (mostly planes). In this game air superiority is very important, and there are ATG as well as ATA craft. The mechanics of air combat would not translate well to the scale of WK40k, since the craft would never be on the battlefield for any duration and having huge aircraft which never actually stayed on the tabletop would probably not be a well selling item!

Also in the WH40K universe if a planet is lost to an invasion, there is the option to deploy Exterminatus which wipes the entire planet clean. Presumably this requires space superiority to use.

share|improve this answer
1  
I agree with your answer, but puzzlingly enough, these days there are many flying vehicles for WH40K. And yes, they look godawful and totally out of place for that wargaming scale. Then again, scale is a minor consideration for WH40K :P –  Andres F. Jan 17 '13 at 18:57

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.