HIT OR MISSILE
A study of the applications of the missile launcher.
The missile launcher, like the multilaser, is seen as sort of a jack-of-all-trades weapon capable of threatening light infantry, vehicles of any sort, and destroying fearsome heavy enemy infantry with a single krak rocket. Let us then take a survey of this staple heavy weapon of the Imperial Guard.
Firstly, we should consider the krak missile, and its effects on five major target types, heavy (T4, 3+) and light (T3, 5+) infantry, and heavy (AV14), medium (AV12) and light (AV 10) vehicles.
Truly a hapless soldier is he who is struck by a krak rocket! Against light infantry, a successful hit will wound 83% of the time, and will ignore armor outright. Likewise for heavy infantry. The problem with using missiles against infantry is that the missile launcher will only hit half the time, giving you an average of slightly less than 3 kills over the course of the average skirmish with a 41.5% chance to kill per shot.
Against vehicles, let us assume that there is no real substitute for a vehicle destroyed result, as a vehicle that is shaken can still be effective momentarily, vehicles bring auxiliary weapons, and an immobilized vehicle is still half as good as a mobile one. This being said, against an AV10 vehicle, a krak rocket has a 3% chance to destroy a vehicle with a glance and an 8% chance to destroy the vehicle with penetrating fire (derived from a 1/6 chance to get any result multiplied by the chances of destroying the vehicle), for a total of a 35% chance per hit, or a 17.5% chance of destroying the vehicle per shot.
Against medium vehicles, there is a 1/6 chance to glance plus a 2/3 chance to penetrate for a 9.5% chance to destroy the vehicle per shot. Against heavy vehicles, the chance to punch through the vehicle and bring it to ruin are a mere 1.4%.
We can see, therefore, that using a krak missile against AV 14 is sheer madness. It would take 12 skirmishes, being able to constantly shoot at AV 14 before the statistics would take down an AV14 vehicle for you.
AV 12 targets will similarly make poor performers out of missile crews. In a state of perfect target presentation, it will still take multiple skirmishes to insure that a krak missile will find it’s target. Yes, missile launchers still threaten AV 12, but produce far from consistent results. The only saving grace to this is that it still outperforms a multilaser which has a pathetic 4.5% chance of hurting AV12.
Against AV 10 targets, you finally have something that the missile launcher can predictably handle, assuming that it hits. The fatal weakness of the missile launcher is that, compared to other weapons designed to be fired at AV 10, it is only one shot.
Indeed, we are left to conclude that a krak missile is a poor weapon to use against vehicles of any sort. It has neither the strength to take on heavy and medium vehicles, nor does it have the rate of fire when compared to other weapons to take out AV10. Thus I highly encourage other imperial commanders not to delude themselves and resist at all costs the practice of taking missile launchers with the hope of ever using them against vehicles. If vehicles will be present, it would be foolish not to take weapons that are better at destroying vehicles, as most of these weapons are not also poor against killing infantry (the other purpose of this weapon).
Instead, let me recommend the autocannon. The autocannon kills light infantry at 83% to the missile’s 41.5%, AV10 at 30% compared to 17.5%, and AV12 at 11% compared to 9.5%. While an autocannon can’t hurt AV14, statistically, neither will a missile launcher. While the missile launcher is 50% better at killing heavy infantry, the missile launcher is outperformed as a heavy infantry killer by 9 other weapons in the imperial armory.
This means that the missile launcher is a weapon of desperation against both heavy infantry and vehicles, as there are many, many weapons that can do the job of a missile launcher better that can easily be included across an army. As any time you can take a krak missile, you can take an autocannon, I recommend that all commanders take autocannons whenever tempted to take missile launchers. If heavy infantry is really such a concern, then take weapons such as plasma weapons and vehicle cannons that are able to more than compensate for the lack of missile launchers.
Now that we have resolved the matter of krak missiles, let us move on to the sister missile: the frag missile. It was left unresolved with the krak missile as to whether it should be fired against light infantry because the answer is most obvious. Many, many weapons are able to kill light infantry better, for cheaper than the krak missile and one of those weapons that can do the job better is the frag missile. It is assumed, then, that any commander would naturally order his infantry to engage light infantry with frag missiles, rather than krak.
So, what of frag missiles? Obviously, they are not designed to be used against vehicles, given their inability to penetrate even the lightest of armor. We must then move on to infantry. Let us assume that, through the wonders of the blasting effects of the frag missile, that the weapon will hit many targets at once. This is, however, variable, so let us work out the damage per soldier, and then leave it up to ourselves to see the frag missile’s effectiveness based on however many infantry we believe we can hit with a single blast.
Against light infantry, if the missile hits, the weapon is likely going to threaten 66% of those hit with a wound. Of those, 33% will have their armor protecting them, for a total of 44% per hit, or 22% per hit, per shot.
How should we compare this to other weapons? A heavy bolter has a 125% chance to kill a light infantryman per turn of shooting. To achieve this, a missile launcher must hit (through direct hits and successful partials) 5.5 targets. While they only need to hit just under 3 when they do hit, they need to make up for every other turn that they miss, thus the 5.5 number.
Compared against the multilaser, the missile launcher must affect 4 per hit. Compared to the autocannon, the missile launcher must affect just a breath under 4 per hit.
To continue our comparison, we must look at forces on the field. For example, a heavy flamer can conceivably kill 14 units per hit, but that is very highly dependant on the formation of enemy infantry, the ability of the heavy flamer to close range and a wide variety of other factors. The first advantage we can see, then, to the missile launcher, is that of it’s incredible range. A flame weapon may struggle to get a single solid hit over the short time span of a fast-paced battle, but a missile launcher is restricted only by line of sight. This means that a missile launcher is likely to get 3 solid hits off in every skirmish, unless the weapon was deployed very poorly out of a firing line.
Note that a missile’s range is also effective in comparison to well-trusted anti light infantry weapons such as a heavy bolter (and, to a much lesser extent, the multilaser and heavy stubber). The range ensures that you will have probably one or two more rounds of shooting, or at least a much more reserved position, offering its own advantages. If the former is true then the missile launcher needs to hit slightly less than 4 models per blast to even the effectiveness of the two weapons, given that for a time, the other guns will be silent.
Secondly, we must take care for how an enemy tends to huddle together as they move about the field. If the enemy is spread far out so as to avoid the effects of blast weapons, the enemy can spread out from half to the maximum amount of separation between soldiers to cause a frag missile to hit but a single target. If, however, you can funnel your enemy into a place where they stand shoulder to shoulder, they can be hit up to a dozen at a time! Only one such blast is required to make the frag missile a superior infantry killer to any other weapon designed to kill light infantry.
With this knowledge, it is worth mentioning the effects of frag missiles on heavy infantry. To kill a single heavy infantryman with a frag missile, you must affect 9 models per hit. This is highly unlikely, and does not account for the effectiveness as a whole, as the missile will miss half the time. In brief, the use of frag missiles against heavy infantry is as useful as a heavy bolter if you can hit an average of 4.5 per blast (note that neither weapon is ever likely to kill more than 1 or 2 heavy infantry models per skirmish).
The skillful application of a frag missile then depends on the skillful orders of the commander. If a commander can consistently force the opponent into close order within LOS of a missile (range does not otherwise matter), then the missile weapon is a far superior weapon for the destruction of light infantry squads (and equal others against heavy infantry). If not, the weapon is most likely going to slightly underperform other light infantry killers for a slightly higher cost. Against heavy infantry, it is almost more worthwhile to use krak missiles, but as stated before, there are far better options.
It is difficult, then, to make a solid recommendation regarding the missile launcher’s use against infantry, as the weapon’s effectiveness relies totally on the enemy’s willingness to bunch up his troops, and the commander’s ability to force the enemy into close positions. We should note, though, that the missile launcher is not likely to be a terrible choice, at the worst, and the near equivalent of an excessively long range flame thrower at best.
Thus, I recommend that imperial commanders take missile launchers for use against infantry (specifically, light infantry), and resist, at all costs, unless the situation is most dire, and dedicated anti-vehicle weapons have failed, and the slim chance to disable a vehicle is worth wasting the missile launcher’s firepower, ever using the missile launcher against a vehicle. If a commander can wipe away the title of “anti-tank weapon”, much use can come of the missile launcher.
As an addendum to this topic, and for the success of imperial commanders who chose to use missile launchers, we should consider how to force enemy infantry to cluster together, so as to make the weapon more effective than the heavy bolter, or the autocannon (which are superior weapons in most circumstances).
Firstly, we must convince the enemy to feel comfortable in gathering together. If the enemy fears ordnance weapons or flame weapons, they are more likely to spread out. If the tactical use of the missile launcher is key, then consider minimizing the use of flame and large blast weapons. Indeed, if you bring to field mortars, grenade launchers, basilisks, hellhounds, and the like, the enemy will likely give no credence to the idea of close order. Only if you can convince your opponent that bunching up is better than spreading out despite your army’s choice of other weapons, can you achieve results with a missile launcher.
Alternately, you could make much use from short range weapons such as demolishers or plasma guns. This will cause your enemy to huddle closer together to avoid members on the edge of the squad from being picked off by being just barely in range of these weapons. If your opponent refuses to bunch up to cower out of weapon range, then your enemy has new problems! If you can achieve this kind of fire, it might well be possible to bunch up your enemy and then spring the trap of well-aimed missile fire into their crowded ranks.
Also, you can do things to encourage your opponent to gather into ruined buildings or natural cover. To do this, it is easiest to throw weapons at them against which their body armor is unlikely to protect them. While this does allow the enemy to use terrain as cover against missile attacks, it is already unlikely that you would deny the enemy a save in the first place (as per earlier calculations). As the missile launcher will not become much less effective against units in cover (if at all), and the enemy must huddle together to fit all members of a squad into said cover, then they will make a better target for a frag missile attack.
Thus, a preliminary barrage of ordnance, or even firing krak missiles at the enemy so as to deceive him to think that you will continue krak missile attacks, or any other clever contrivance, can cause an enemy commander to make your missiles more effective against his troops.
As well, it is possible for a commander, through proper deployment of his own forces, to create fire channels. For instance, heavy armor might be deployed on the flanks of the line to encourage weaker units to advance through the middle. If terrain is used properly, this may channel the weaker elements of the enemy between two buildings or against the edge of some other impassable or otherwise occupied terrain. Once this has occurred, enemy forces, through simple actions on the part of the imperial commander, can be made ready for a brutal rocket attack.
Finally, an enemy commander, for fear of his infantry, may hand you a blessing by starting his troops off in close order in terrain. Should the enemy commander extend to you such an advantage than nothing more than sustained fire is required, and the missile launcher will likely prove itself as effective as other forms of infantry killers with no effort required.
Thus, a missile launcher should be thought of like a flame weapon. Difficult to use properly, difficult to resist against when used properly. Missile launchers do, then, have uses, so long as they are not used against tanks.