Battlemaster Mk.VII is the latest incarnation of the standard main battle tank in service with the armed forces of the Imperium of Sidhae. The standard MBT of the Imperial Army has borne the name of Battlemaster since the early days of the Imperium, undergoing constant modernizations, upgrades and improvements, but retaining the same overall design and form that has become iconic over the centuries.
The current Mk.VII model has been in service since 2572.
The origins of the Battlemaster series date back to the Confederate Era of Old Terra, when the Confederacy introduced their iconic P30 Guderian, the first mass-produced tank with a railgun primary weapon.
Confederate military doctrine placed high value on preserving their soldiers over equipment. This way, veteran troops with invaluable combat experience could survive for longer and pass on their knowledge to the new recruits, leading to overall better training and professional standards in the military even in wartime. Obviously, higher chances of survival would also contribute greatly to troop morale and make them more willing to undertake risky tasks.
Although Confederate forces obviously had a good degree of standardization, this was largely due to existing standardization agreements between the nations that joined (or were "joined") the Confederacy. Due to the rapid expansion of the Confederacy, the military industries simply couldn't keep up with the pace and refurnish the armed forces with a uniform standard equipment, especially where it came to heavy equipment like armor, so the Confederate military used a very broad assortment of vehicles retained from the armies of member nations with only loose common standards. This tremendously complicated logistics and hampered efficiency, so Confed military planners consistently worked towards a greater degree of standardization. Where it came to armor, their desired standard tank of the future would have to prioritize crew survivability and ease of repair.
After analyzing thousands of recorded armored engagements between modern MBTs of various nations, it was determined that the best overall survival rates belonged to German Leopard 2 and Israeli Merkava series tanks. The newer generations of Leopard 2 were designed to be modular, making field repairs quick and easy - for example, a Leopard 2A7 that had suffered a crippling hit on the engine could be returned to the field in as little as 2 hours, provided a spare engine module was available. The Merkava series in turn were excellent examples of crew protection - with their frontal engine placement and large rear doors, they provided superior shielding to the crew compartment and a quick and easy means of escape in case that failed. The various other adaptions of the Merkava for urban combat, especially the infantry compartment, also attracted attention of Confederate military designers, and the P30 Guderian, the bastard child of Leopard 2 and Merkava tanks and the father of the Battlemaster tank, was conceived.
After the fall of the Confederacy and the following exodus of the Sidh ancestors, the design remained in blueprints only for the next 50 years, the colonists of new worlds having more pressing needs than armored vehicles to build. However, with the commencement of the Skargh Wars in 2092, the blueprints of the P30 Guderian were again withdrawn from databanks and hastily put into manufacture. Because the concept of a heavily-armored combat vehicle had never occurred to the Skargh before, largely because their opponents had been primitives, the restored Guderian tank had a tremendous effect on them. The Skargh consequently took to calling it "battlemaster" for its deadly effectiveness, the alien nickname sticking with the Sidh tankers as a mark of pride as well. Consequently, the next modernization of the Guderian tank was officially designated Battlemaster, starting a tradition that has lasted for six centuries.
The first two generations of Battlemaster tanks, conceived during the Age of Peace, were little different from the original P30 Guderian, their main improvements being the replacement of internal combustion engine with a miniaturized fusion core, and the addition of an integral recon/repair drone module. Although the switch to fusion power almost tripled the tank's per-unit cost, it was deemed an acceptable trade in light of the near-unlimited operating range and independence from fuel supply that it provided. Battlemaster Mk.III, introduced at the onset of the Age of War and being the single most produced Sidh tank in history, featured a much-improved armor, overhauled drive train and the addition of various active defense systems. Mk.III also discarded the railgun primary weapon in favour of a more traditional smoothbore main gun, as the latter could fire a much more diverse array of specialty projectiles at the expense of armor penetration capabilities. Mk.IV, produced for a relatively short while before the Imperium leaving the war, in turn replaced the chem-propelled gun with a particle cannon. The following versions have been mostly modernizations of Mk. IV, intended to make the design last as a credible threat for another century. Mk.V was essentially another routine upgrade to Mk.IV, and Mk.VI that saw extensive use in the first half of the Reconquest Wars improved the turret design to enable quick and easy swapping of main guns and their supporting systems, allowing the same tank to be fitted with either a smoothbore gun, a railgun or a particle cannon as felt necessary.
The current Mk.VII version of the Battlemaster is agan simply a modernization of Mk.VI, featuring improved armor, defenses and armaments along with a more efficient power system and electronics.
The Mk.VII Battlemaster is a quite bulky tank, designed to be spacious enough to accomodate a crew in powered armor. As all of it's predecessors, it retains the traditional engine-front layout, providing an extra layer of protection to the already heavily-armored crew compartment. The engine compartment houses the fusion core and its cooling, shielding and shock absorber units and is entirely isolated from outside.
The crew compartment, located roughly in the middle of the tank under the turret, is separated from the infantry module in the rear by a blast-resistant door that is normally closed during combat, but quickly and easily opened in case of emergency. At the very rear is an infantry compartment with room for 4 infantrymen in powered armor. When unoccupied, it can be used to store the crew's personal belongings, evacuate wounded or carry extra spare parts and ammunition (although the regulations formally discourage the latter for safety reasons). In cases when the crew is required to remain on stand-by for a long period of time, the crew compartment can also be used as sleeping quarters, men taking turns to rest. A large drop-down rear door similar to those found in APCs allows quick and easy entry and exit, making hasty escape an easy business in case of emergency.
The turret is fully automated and entirely separate from the crew compartment, though it is possible to access it for repair and maintenance through a hatch in the crew comparment ceiling. The turret itself is divided into two compartments, the front housing the main and secondary guns, and the rear compartment containing either their ammunition or cooling systems, depending on the tank's current configuration. The two hatches on the turret roof are often mistaken for commander and gunner's hatches, but in fact protect the tank's two drone modules, one housing the recon and the other the repair drones. The latter allow to conduct external repairs on the tank, such as fixing a damaged track or patching over a damaged section of armor, without the crew having to expose themselves to enemy fire or other hazards. Supplies for external repairs, such as spare armor plates, road wheels and sections of tracks, are usually mounted externally, although their presence hampers the effectiveness of active camouflage systems and hence requires their removal and internal storage when stealth is a concern.
All vital parts of the tank come as monolithic modules, easily swapped out and replaced in field workshops with only the most basic equipment. Damaged modules are set aside and shipped back to the rear where more advanced repairs can be conducted on them, or they can be scrapped and recycled.
Although the crew inside is expected to wear their armor suits fully enclosed at least during combat, the tank itself is still designed to provide full NBC protection, both as an additional layer of protection to the crew, and taking into consideration that sometimes the crewmen simply might not have the time to gear up properly.
The tank has no external openings beyond the few hatches. Visibility is provided by a number of small and well-protected external sensors providing excellent 360-degree vision in the visible, IR and UV spectrum.
Because the Battlemaster runs on fusion power, its operational range is practically unlimited, though in practice is set at 2000 kilometers before a routine maintenance session is required by regulations. Although not amphibious per se, Battlemaster is capable of fording water obstacles of up to 20 meters deep (in practice probably even deeper, 20 meters being the recommended maximum safe depth), and can be made amphibious by attaching an external amphibious module of large inflatable pontoons and a powerful water-jet engine.
Battlemaster tanks of the latest generation also feature a state-of-the-art command and control computer with an advanced AI that controls the automated aspects of the vehicle and is even capable of assuming limited control over the tank without any direct crew input, such as driving itself to a designated location, or returning to base on its own in the event of a complete crew loss. It is, however, unable to fire its weapons without authorization from a Sidh operator.
The Mk.VII Battlemaster can be configured to carry either a 1200-megawatt particle cannon, a 125-millimeter railgun, or a 150-millimeter conventional smoothbore gun, with either a 25-millimeter autocannon or a 500-megawatt pulse laser as a coaxial secondary weapon. All weapons and their supporting systems are modular and housed in the automated turret.
In the standard particle-cannon configuration, the Battlemaster is equally effective in anti-armor and fire support roles while excelling in neither. While the particle blast itself is powerful enough to burn through and melt any practical amount of conventional metal-based armor into a pool of slag, it can be defended against with non-metallic ablative armor that dissipates most of its thermal energy. At the same time, while the particle beam generates a quite powerful explosion at the receiving end, the damage is largely limited to the immediate proximity of the impact, and the beam tends to overpenetrate against softer targets like buildings.
For this reason, alternative configurations featuring a railgun and a conventional gun exist. Fitted with a powerful railgun firing sub-caliber long-rod penetrators, the Battlemaster becomes an excellent tank hunter - for all the miracles of technology, even modern supermaterials cannot withstand the brute force of a high density hyperalloy rod hurled into the target at several times the escape velocity of Terra, at least not in any amounts practical to mount on a tank. When sporting a conventional gun, the tank in turn becomes an excellent infantry support weapon, able to fire a wide variety of explosive, fragmentation and incendiary munitions that couldn't withstand being fired from a railgun. While the conventional gun can also fire armor-piercing saboted rounds, their penetrating power is usually insufficient to deal with modern armor beyond very close ranges.
The main gun features good elevation, being designed with urban combat in mind, and decent depression, allowing for effective use in a hull-down position. In this respect, however, the Battlemaster is still inferior to the Federation's Scorpion MBT which can elevate the whole unmanned turret independently of the hull.
A secondary autocannon or pulse laser accompanies the main gun to take out lighter targets that do not merit the discharge of the main gun (which is naturally a very loud and obvious business bound to attract attention even in heaviest combat). The autocannon offers more tactical flexibility with its variable ammunition, while the pulse laser is more useful in extended combat scenarios, where opportunities to resupply are few and far between.
As auxiliary armament, the Battlemaster can be fitted with a smaller remote-controlled turret mounted on top of the main turret, usually featuring dual heavy boltguns. These are used to clear out ambushes in top floors of buildings, suppress enemy infantry and engage light vehicles.
The Battlemaster can also be outfitted with external missile launcher modules, capable of firing guided anti-tank and anti-air missiles. The latter function also requires an add-on anti-air sensor package, which is mounted on the rear of the turret.
The tank's two recon drones also feature a light attack capability, mounting a rapid-fire energy carbine-type weapon for harassing and distracting the enemy and taking out any detected mines and IEDs from a safe distance.
Battlemaster tanks have since their beginnings been designed with an all-around multi-layered protection in mind.
While armor is the first, foremost and the most obvious measure of protection that comes to mind when discussing tanks, the Battlemaster's defenses in fact begin long before that, reaching out to about 300 meters away from the tank. The Wraith full-spectrum ECM/stealth suite is the complex of protective measures designed to reduce the tank's detectability and interfere with the enemy's abilities to target and engage it.
The stealth aspect of the Wraith suite entails mainly active camouflage. The external layers of Battlemaster armor are designed much the same way as the Sidh infantryman's powered armor is - capable of adjusting colour and heat patterns and, to a limited degree, even texture to blend in the surroundings. While certainly not a proper stealth tank actually capable of limited invisiblility, the Battlemaster can still conceal itself well enough to be either entirely invisible or mistaken for a harmless object (such as a civilian car) in IR spectrum, and blend enough to be overlooked at first glance in the visible light. If detected, the tank can retreat to a safer position by the age-old method of deploying a smoke screen.
The ECM suite consists of a sensor package on top of the turret that detects and attempts to jam enemy active sensors. If a radiation beam of an enemy target designator or sensor is sensed to mark the tank, the ECM suite immediately pinpoints the source and attempts to dazzle it with similar radiation while informing the crew of the designator's location. If an incoming missile is detected, the ECM attempts to dazzle or otherwise jam its sensors and crash or otherwise divert it harmlessly away from the tank. The ECM suite can also be set to jamming mode, making all radio communication outside strictly-set friendly frequencies impossible within roughly 300 meters and either inactivating or prematurely setting off any radio-controlled IEDs. An optional module of phased array microphones also enables the countermeasure suite to detect and pinpoint potential threats by the sound of gunfire, a feature especially useful in urban settings.
If soft-kill attempts to divert the missile fail, or the projectile is of an unguided type, the next layer of defense - the Iron Dome area defense system (ADS) engages. A small dome-shaped cupola on top of the twin-boltgun turret (being the highest point on the tank) houses the prisms aiming a powerful pulse laser housed within the turret towards any incoming projectiles. The pulsed beam and the rapid cycle of heating and ablative cooling that it causes results in immense stresses in the incoming projectile, often being enough to shatter it, or simply cause it to detonate prematurely. The system is sensitive and fast enough to detect, track and intercept multiple projectiles simultaneously, including hyper-velocity penetrators.
The Iron Dome is named as a nod to the historical Israeli Iron Dome area defense system that protected their country from missile attacks. The Imperium also employs an upscaled version of the system known as Dome of Light, creating a bubble essentially impervious to incoming projectiles over an area of several square kilometers.
A sufficient volume of fire can, however, overwhelm the Iron Dome, leading to a more traditional explosive defense being deployed as a last-ditch measure before impact. Arranged in strips along the hull, directional charges project a dense blast of shrapnel at the incoming projectile, hopefully disintegrating or detonating it prematurely.
Because of this limitation, and because both aforementioned defensive measures are useless against energy weapons, the Battlemaster also features a thick combined composite/electro-reactive armor. The electro-reactive plating layers are separated by a layer of insulating medium while retaining a huge difference in electric potential. Any physical penetrator creates a short-circuit between adjacent plates, resulting in an explosive energy discharge that drives them apart, increasing relative armor thickness and also quite possibly disrupting the penetrator. Lastly, the underlying passive armor itself is highly-resistent to kinetic impacts, the nanofabricated hyper-alloy composite being able to resist all but the most powerful kinetic impacts. Furthermore, both the material of base armor and the external electro-reactive plating is highly-ablative, providing significant protection against directed energy weapons as well.
Although the armor material is technically not supposed to spall, the interior of the tank is nonetheless lined with a shock-absorbent fireproof coating to minimize ricochetting of any shrapnel that might enter the crew compartment in the event of a penetration.
The underside of the tank is shaped like a shallow V to divert away mine blasts. Although the angle is much too shallow for optimum effect, even a few percent reduction in blast force is deemed significant enough to be worthwhile. The crew seats are mounted on shock absorbers fixed on walls rather than the floor, greatly reducing any violent impacts coming from below - a useful feature not just upon striking a mine, but also during rough airborne landings, as tanks flown in by dropships or delivered by drop pods often strike the ground quite violently.
Battlemaster tanks feature a full NBC protection, including hermetically-sealed crew compartment, CO2 scrubbers, a self-sealing layer in armor and a slight positive overpressure inside the crew compartment. The crew is expected to wear their armor fully enclosed, providing an additional layer of protection and enabling the use of more effective (and toxic) fire suppression agents.
Lastly, the tank features a belt of directional anti-personnel mines to repel enemy infantry at close quarters. A common tactic seen in the close quarters of urban combat is to distract the crew/AI operating the remote-controlled close-in defense turret while approaching the tank up close to within the turret's blind zone and plant charges on the tracks and hull. A mine belt with independent sensors deters any such attempts, although it must be switched off for safety reasons if friendly infantry is also operating nearby. Considering, however, that the Battlemasters routinely carry an escort of 4 infantrymen, the mine belt is mostly a redundancy.
The Battlemaster has in its various incarnations served in every war that the Imperium has fought in since 2092, the present model being in service since 2572.
While overall an excellent tank, feared and admired by enemies in equal measure and loved by its crews and passengers for its unmatched degree of protection, the Battlemaster is not without flaws. Somewhat typically for Sidh vehicles, it is heavily over-engineered, having a per-unit cost almost five times that of its enemy counterparts. Compared to some rival designs, it is less mobile and less able to fire from difficult positions, and its bulk and weight often exclude it from roads and bridges in especially less-developed locales.
That being said, the Sidh military planners deem the capabilities of this tank more than worth its shortcomings, a fact well-attested by the fact that its base design has remained largely unchanged over six centuries.