Imperial Ground Equipment
By now, it should be quite clear that a definite trend is forming. While the Federation army's answer to every shortcoming is "Starfleet will save us", the Empire has chosen a far more prudent path. For every category of real-life ground weapon, the Empire has an equivalent, and sometimes they have categories of weapon for which no real-life analogue has ever existed. For every job, they have an appropriate weapon or vehicle. And for every piece of real-life ground equipment, you will probably not be surprised to discover that they have something in their inventory which fits the profile, and maybe something more.
Grenades were very rarely seen in the canon films, although they are used somewhat more heavily in the novelizations. The most well-known type of Imperial grenade is the Merr-Sonn thermal detonator (seen at right). The SWEGWT claims that it uses a "fusion reaction" to vapourize everything within a specified radius while leaving everything outside that radius completely unaffected. However, it is very difficult to rationalize this explanation with known physical laws, because the rapid vapourization of all the solid material in a spherical region would produce a pressure shockwave and a huge cloud of superheated gas. It is most likely that this explanation is a bit exaggerated, and that the blast radius simply defines the range at which the overpressure is no longer fatal, rather than defining a "magical wall" beyond which nothing happens. According to the SWVD, the shell of the grenade is designed for fragmentation, so the grenade may be some sort of hybrid HE/frag grenade, with enough concussive force to be used as a demolition charge (supposedly able to blast a hole through 2 metres of permacrete) but enough fragmentation to cause everyone in Jabba's lair to cower in fear when Boushh pulled one out. The SWEGWT claims that the blast radius of a standard Imperial grenade is 5 metres while larger grenades are lethal out to 20 metres and even 100 metres (presumably, the very large grenades would be fired from a mortar or grenade launcher, since the average human being can't be expected to throw a grenade that far).
The existence of Imperial grenades is unquestionable since we've seen one, in ROTJ. However, we still must try to understand why they were not used more frequently, despite several situations which seemed to call for them:
When the Tantive IV was boarded, it would have been much safer for the boarding parties to throw grenades into the corridor before entering. However, Vader wanted live prisoners and absolutely minimal damage to the ship, since he needed to know where the plans were hidden and whether they had already been taken off (otherwise, he could have simply destroyed the vessel in its entirety without bothering to board it at all). The plans could have been anywhere: hidden on a disc, loaded into the memory banks of a droid, or copied into a shipboard computer. This meant that the boarding parties had to be very discriminating in their fire, taking care not to hit electronic systems, droids (notice that they carefully avoided hitting C3PO and R2D2 even when they foolishly walked right through a cross-fire), passengers, or technical personnel. Given that mission requirement, frag grenades would have been out of the question.
When the security teams blasted their way into the Death Star detention centre, the first man through was shot and killed immediately. At this point, one would think that the men behind him would say "screw that!" and start whipping grenades into the room. However, they did nothing of the sort. They rushed into the room and demonstrated surprising coolness under fire, particularly when you realize that not one minute earlier, they were probably sitting around talking about the latest podrace results. Even after seeing the first man die, they moved calmly into the room, squeezing off deliberate shots at Han Solo and Chewbacca. In fact, if you watch the scene carefully, you will see that one of the first men through the hole takes a shot at Han Solo's head, and it misses by less than an inch! The reason for the absence of grenades may relate to overconfidence; on a station with millions of Imperial soldiers and enough firepower to vapourize a planet a million times over, it wouldn't be too surprising if they didn't even carry any grenades. And of course, we have the distinct possibility of discriminatory fire. Tarkin planned to let the Princess escape in order to track her ship, so the men may have been ordered to let them get away. However, although we know Tarkin wanted her to escape, we have no way of determining when he came to this decision.
When the Rebels were trying to escape Bespin, the stormtroopers never threw any grenades even though the Rebels were taking cover and making it difficult to score hits with direct fire. However, in this case the stormtroopers were definitely trying to herd the Rebels rather than kill them, and this is made blatantly obvious when they reach the landing platform. Vader knew they would head for the Falcon (which is why he ordered its hyperdrive disabled), yet there was not one stormtrooper guarding it! Moreover, the squad pursuing the Rebels was taking only sporadic, single shots even they had more than enough men to wipe the platform clean with concentrated semi-automatic fire. They had obviously been ordered to push the Rebels onto the Falcon rather than killing them, most likely because Vader knew they would rescue Luke.
During the Endor battle, the most likely reason for the lack of grenade use is volatility and simple overconfidence. Inside the bunker, with its important equipment and the Rebels' explosive charges all over the walls, it would have obviously been insane to use grenades. Outside the bunker, they were felled by simple overconfidence. Their light armament reveals deplorable overconfidence (the scout troopers had handguns, the stormtroopers had carbines, and they didn't bother carrying any of the heavy weapons we saw in ANH or TESB), so it's really no surprise that they didn't bother carrying grenades. Before we leap to the conclusion that such foolishness is impossible in the Emperor's "finest troops", I would urge readers to study the example of the US Army's elite Rangers, SEALs, and Delta Force commandos in Somalia. During a disastrous mission in which two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down, they demonstrated exactly the kind of overconfidence that I'm describing. They arrogantly performed what should have been a night operation in broad daylight, and they didn't bother bringing any "unnecessary" dead weight, such as water canteens, bayonets, or night-sight equipment. Some of them even removed the armour plates from their flak jackets, so they would be more comfortable in the heat! Worse yet, mission security was horrendous; Somali staff at the U.S. Embassy easily discovered the time and place of the mission, and forwarded this information to Aidid's men! The problems didn't even stop there; they had no heavy reinforcements or armour in case of serious resistance, and they only had one rescue team, which became a huge problem when not one, but two choppers went down. They couldn't even co-ordinate their activities; the Rangers and Delta Force commandos butted heads over tactics and chain of command, and an Orion spy plane wasn't permitted to give direct instructions to the men on the ground even though it was the only platform with a clear view of what was happening. The litany of mistakes continued with the rescue convoys, which literally got lost and ambushed en route to the crash site because of unfamiliarity with the city streets and poor direction from the helicopters above. In the confusion, the Americans fired on anyone with a gun, and then anyone who was around someone with a gun, and eventually, at anything that moved, thus causing hundreds of civilian casualties. A simple mission to kidnap two men turned into a chaotic 12 hour firefight, in which nearly a hundred American soldiers were killed or wounded. If this were a fictional war story, it would have been lambasted for being hopelessly unrealistic. People would say "no real soldiers would be so incompetent". But these men were not incompetent; they were overconfident and inadequately prepared. They demonstrated to the world (at least, the part of the world that reads books instead of getting all their information from action movies) that even the best trained, best equipped soldiers can still can be stymied by poor preparation and the inherent difficulties of combat in difficult and unfamiliar terrain.
Thermal detonators were used more frequently in the novels, but although they actually originated in the films, there were was really only one situation (the Endor battle) in which we should have expected to see them. Their existence cannot be questioned, but there is no questioning the fact that the Endor garrison should have been better prepared. They had undoubtedly been told that only a handful of Rebel troops were coming (which was true), and they probably thought it would be a simple arrest. The possibility of being greatly outnumbered by intelligent tribal animals popping out of the underbrush and hurling 20 kilogram rocks at their heads had obviously not even remotely occurred to them. A helmet that can block bullets or shrapnel won't be able to keep a 20 kg rock from knocking you unconscious or perhaps even snapping your neck when it hits you in the face.
Of course, the thermal detonator is not the only type of grenade in the Empire. Given the knowledge that the Empire generally possesses equivalents for virtually all forms of real-life ground weaponry, it should come as no surprise that there are many other types. According to the SWEGWT, these would include the C-22 (standard frag grenade), the Glop (sprays immobilizing foam), the WW-41 (cryogenic freeze, designed to extinguish even anaerobic fires), smoke and dye grenades, illumination grenades, stun grenades, Merr-Sonn 7-prG proton grenades (for hull breaching and demolition), corrosive gas grenades, and nerve gas grenades (the Fex-M3 nerve gas grenade releases a distinctive thick yellow cloud of gas which can cause death within ten seconds). You may have noticed that the "dioxin" (obviously a shortened name) nerve gas used in TPM was also a thick yellow cloud of gas, although there is no way of knowing for sure whether it was Fex-M3 (Jedi Knights are able to survive nerve gas for brief periods, and we never saw its effect on normal humanoids).
Flamethrowers are as rarely used in the Empire as they are in real life, but they still have their uses, even if it's only for psychological value. The Merr-Sonn CR-24 flame rifle projects a cone of superheated flame as far as 10 metres, to neutralize resistance (ref. SWEGWT). These weapons are superb at clearing the narrow corridors of a spacecraft where the structure is metallic and presumably not flammable, and the capture of living prisoners is not a priority. However, the flaming napalm-like fuel would stick to walls and burn with intense heat. The heat would obscure infrared and tax their body-suit climate control systems, and the smoke would obscure normal vision. The result would be that they would have to wait for fires to clear before advancing, thus breaking the cardinal assault rules of "Surprise, Aggression, Speed". Ultimately, the flamethrower is probably still used only as a terror weapon in the Empire, just as it was in the 20th century.
Anti-Tank and Anti-Aircraft Weapons
The Merr-Sonn PLX-2M missile system is a shoulder-mounted personal anti-vehicular missile launcher. Unlike real-life AT or AA man-portable systems, this one is not specialized for air or ground vehicles, but instead, is designed to be simultaneously effective against both.
At first glance, this may seem like the same kind of "Swiss Army knife" mentality that cripples the Federation ground arsenal. However, real-life AA and AT guns are specialized only because of the vastly differing characteristics of their targets. Real-life tanks are slow and heavily armoured, while real-life aircraft are nimble and carry little or no armour at all. Imperial technology changes this situation dramatically; Imperial repulsorcraft can carry light or heavy armour, and they can function either as ground vehicles or low-altitude aircraft.
The proliferation of vehicles which merge the characteristics of armour and air support requires a similarly merged class of infantry weapon. According to the SWEGWT, the PLX-2M system is over 50kg in mass, but an integral repulsorlift system allows even a diminutive operator to easily carry the weapon. The guided missiles carry miniature proton warheads, and the weapon is equipped with a sophisticated targeting system which uses holograms to display range, speed, and other information. The operator can easily track targets through rain, darkness, and fog, and the missiles can be set to home on infrared emissions much like 20th century heat-seeking missiles do, or to home in on the gravity-wave anomalies caused by repulsorlift drives. Gravity wave-locks are almost impossible to break, even for skilled pilots, and the missile has a range of fifty kilometres, so it can only be outrun if the vehicle is unusually fast. Standard loadout is six missiles.
Of course, as with modern LAW missiles, the probability of successfully damaging a vehicle depends on its performance characteristics, as well as the tactical situation. An airspeeder is nimble but a direct hit would cause critical damage. An AT-AT, on the other hand, is easy to target, but its armour is so strong that a direct hit on its sides or legs would be a useless gesture. However, in an urbanized environment or forested terrain, soldiers could conveivably approach under cover of terrain and then dart under the lumbering vehicle and fire the missile up at its vulnerable belly. This is precisely analogous to the nature of real-life AT weapons, which can be lethal to even the heaviest tanks in urbanized and forested environments, but which don't stand a chance on open terrain.
A much lighter anti-vehicle weapon is the Golan Arms FC1 flechette launcher. According to the SWEGWT, this is a specialiized weapon which has a maximum range of 250 metres, and which is actually a form of low-end guided missile. Once the weapon's targeting systems "paint" the target, the user can launch a specialized flechette canister. This canister will track the target while in flight, and when it reaches the pre-programmed proximity from the target it will explode, pelting its target with high-velocity darts. It can cause widespread damage to light vehicles such as skiffs, speeder bikes, and light speeders, and the weapon can also fire anti-personnel canisters, which use much smaller, more numerous darts to kill any human within 10 metres of the explosion.
As in real life, other AT and AA guns can be found on vehicles. The AT-AT walker's cheek-mounted guns are much lighter and therefore have a much greater traversal rate than its big chin guns (see the brief discussion of robotics in the Real-life Ground Equipment page), and as we saw in the Battle of Hoth, they are quite capable of hitting low-altitude ground support aircraft such as Rebel snowspeeders. Another example is found in the Naboo landspeeders' rear deck-mounted light anti-tank guns, which were powerful enough to blast through the armoured hulls of Trade Federation battle tanks.
In short, the Imperial army has numerous vehicle-mounted and man-portable weapons systems capable of destroying both low-level aircraft and armoured ground vehicles, just like a real army.
Since we never saw an Imperial ground defense action in the movies, we never saw any mines. However, the SWEGWT mentions various types of "planetary mines", such as repulsorlift mines (which obviously hover above the ground) to conventional-looking flat disc-shaped land mines like the Conner Ship Systems 3HX3 (pg. 96). It should be noted that while the 3HX3 looks like a conventional land mine, it is actually rather more complex. It uses life-form sensors rather than ground pressure or electromagnetic detection, and when it detects a target it launches an explosive charge up to as much as three metres into the air, for an airburst fragmentation blast which can cause wide-area casualties (it is said to be powerful enough to wipe out an entire squad and damage light vehicles such as speeders and scout walkers). However, modern-day rules for deployment would undoubtedly still hold true, such as the need to plan minefield layouts and the ability to put fire on the minefield in order to keep the enemy from clearing it.
The SWEGWT doesn't mention larger or heavier anti-armour mines, but the 3HX3 sounds like a general-purpose defense emplacement. Since it actually launches munitions at vehicles or infantry rather than exploding in place, there is no reason why it couldn't be loaded with anti-armour munitions such as shaped-charge projectiles, as opposed to fragmentation projectiles.
Body Armour and NBC Protection
Stormtroopers: This uniform should already be familiar to anyone who hasn't been living in a cave for the last 20 years. It is the infamous stormtrooper uniform, which simultaneously acts as body armour, NBC suit, and combat aid. Some Trekkies insist on questioning the utility of heavily armed and equipped foot soldiers, in an era of starships and transporters. However, they would do well to study real life before reading any more sci-fi; all of the advanced technology in the world still doesn't remove the need to put a man on the ground with a gun in his hands. We have amazing technologies to support foot soldiers, but not to replace them. More to the point, no one can even foresee the day when the highly trained, heavily armed foot soldier will no longer be necessary.
The reason is simple: only a soldier can conquer and hold territory. If your goal is simply to obliterate a city, then a nuclear weapon will suffice. If your goal is to cause indiscriminate loss of civilian life, then carpet bombing of residential areas will get the job done. If your goal is to destroy large, visible fortifications, then pinpoint airstrikes will do (although this might be costly if the surrounding forest is full of SAMs). But what if your goal is to capture an important enemy facility? What if your goal is to seize control of a city? What if your goal is to maintain order and quell riots? What if your enemies are hiding among non-combatant civilians? What if your target is nestled in a forest? What if this is all happening on a planet whose atmosphere is full of violent electrical activity? What if massive anti-aircraft defenses are in place? What if a theatre shield is operational? What if you don't have air superiority? That's when you need soldiers.
Armour Characteristics: A stormtrooper's suit performs as both body armour, NBC suit, and combat aid. It would be best to examine these functions separately.
A stormtrooper's body armour capabilities are very impressive. According to the SWVD, the hardened white shell is virtually immune to corrosion (very important considering the fact that corrosive gas grenades exist), and it can resist any hand-held projectile weapons. In fact, we learned in "Rebel Dawn" that stormtrooper armour is so well made that it commands a high price on the black market, which is why Han Solo was smuggling stolen armour for profit. Not once in any of the three original films did we see anything penetrate the hardened armour apart from a direct hit with a blaster bolt, although the rubberized flexible joint sections were obviously not quite so strong (numerous stormtroopers were killed by arrows to the flexible neck covering in ROTJ, and Leia killed one with a shrapnel hit to the wall behind him, taking advantage of that same small weak area). The novel "Lightsabres", from the Young Jedi Knights series, contains a sequence of events which helps demonstrate the mechanical strength of stormtrooper armour:
"Qorl stood inside the training chamber holding a wicked-looking spear in his black-wrapped left hand. His droid replacement gripped the gleaming shaft with enough force to dent the metal."
"He cocked his droid arm back - and hurled the deadly weapon ..."
"Norys slammed into the wall, his helmet ringing against the hard metal bulkhead. His vision sparkled with impending unconsciousness."
"He looked down at his chest in amazement and saw only a nick in the white armor where the spear had struck."
Qorl's droid used its superhuman strength to throw a spear with such great force that it lifted a man off his feet and hurled him against a nearby wall. It should be noted that we have no materials in real life that can be manufactured in lightweight thin plates and yet retain such strength against deformation or cracking. Moreover, no real-life assault rifle fires projectiles with anywhere near enough momentum to throw a man around like a rag doll, so this means that stormtrooper armour is basically impervious to present-day small-arms fire (not to mention the shrapnel that is ejected by anti-personnel weapons). A real-life soldier would have to score direct hits with concussion grenades or use a very heavy tripod-mounted gun in order to kill a stormtrooper through his armour (contrast this with Federation soldiers, whose pajamas wouldn't be of much use against an M-16). Blaster bolts are much too powerful to block, but by blocking shrapnel, a stormtrooper's armour ensures that the enemy must score a direct hit in order to kill the man inside.
The NBC protection of stormtrooper armour is just as important as its physical strength. According to the SWVD, a stormtrooper's armour is the product of millenia of refinement in personal combat protection equipment, and it affords the wearer complete protection from a wide variety of threats, such as extreme temperature variations, the vacuum of space (albeit only briefly), radiogenic fallout, nerve gases, and biological agents. The observed characteristics of the armour are consistent with this description. The armour seems to be based on a black, rubber-like "body glove", upon which the white armour plates are bonded. When Han Solo and Luke Skywalker had their helmets off in ANH, we could see that the suit extended all the way up to the neck, and the SWVD's helmet diagram labels a "hermetic auto-seal" around its base, which is obviously designed to form an airtight seal around the suit's neck collar. Furthermore, when a stormtrooper speaks, his voice sounds tinny and distorted, as if it is electronically reproduced or otherwise filtered. It does not sound like he's simply speaking through a barrier, and it does not appear as if this electronically filtered voice reproduction can be turned off in favour of direct speech (even Han Solo and Luke Skywalker communicated that way en route to the Death Star detention centre). This is generally indicative of a sealed helmet.
And finally, the combat aids built into a stormtrooper helmet finish up its list of attributes. The characteristic bulge around the base of a stormtrooper's helmet is not cosmetic; the SWVD's helmet diagram shows that behind the decorative "eye" on the outside of the helmet lie not lenses, but rather, some sort of integrated imaging system (perhaps holographic). The SWVD goes into more detail elsewhere, explaining that it contains a sophisticated sensor suite which ties into an integrated computer core. This onboard computer processes this information for the wearer and then it can either project it onto the lenses using a form of HUD display or, in higher-end units, it can project holographic images for the wearer. It has been suggested that the special powered scopes on their blasters may actually feed video to their helmets for a "gun's eye view" when desired, but unfortunately, the films never showed the view from inside a stormtrooper helmet, so there is no conclusive proof of this theory. As a final note, the stormtrooper helmet also contains two-way wireless voice communications, which are obviously a very convenient aid in command and control (although one would presume that the more elite units are still trained to use old fashioned techniques such as hand signalling, which can't be jammed or intercepted).
Training: According to the SWE, stormtroopers live in a totally disciplined, militaristic environment, and their intense dedication and training means that they cannot be bribed or blackmailed. Their marksmanship is generally very good and is sometimes superb. If you monitor their combat effectiveness in ANH, TESB, and ROTJ, you will note that they regularly score hits at ranges of more than 20 metres while shooting from the hip, which is as much as anyone can reasonably expect. One stormtrooper missed Han Solo's head by less than an inch in the ANH detention centre battle, and stormtroopers hit Leia and R2D2 with snap-shots from all the way across the clearing in ROTJ. They also inflicted heavy casualties on the Ewoks in ROTJ despite the Ewoks' advantages of surprise, terrain familiarity, large numbers of traps, small size, and camouflage colouration.
In fact, they were clearly and decisively winning the battle despite being caught unawares without any heavy weapons or preparation (there is a strong possibility that their helmet threat identification systems didn't even pick up on the Ewoks at all). The film shied away from showing most of the Ewok casualties for obvious reasons (much as early WW2 propaganda footage glossed over the magnitude of D-Day casualties), but the novelization made it quite clear that after the complacent troops were ambushed, they quickly regained their composure and began to inflict heavy casualties, despite the forested terrain (which is naturally hostile to high-tech warfare) and their poorly chosen white suits (camouflage suits are also available, but they didn't use them).
The herding actions of the Death Star and Bespin "escapes" were a greater challenge in some ways; they were asked to shoot close enough to the Rebels to rattle them without actually killing them, and they knew the Rebels would be shooting to kill. The fact that they were able to do this job without panic, and without reservation is a good indication of the level of discipline in their ranks. Their actions support the SWE's claim about their dedication and training; they always moved with absolute poise even when asked to let armed intruders escape even if it costs them their own lives (eg. the Death Star escape, or the Bespin escape), or when asked to walk into the almost certain death of a defended chokepoint (eg. breaching the Tantive IV's hull or entering the Death Star detention centre in ANH).
Specialist Suits: although stormtroopers are capable of functioning in almost any environment, it has behooved the Empire to create specialized types of stormtroopers designed to function in unusual environments for long periods of time. For example, while a normal stormtrooper can function in the severe cold of an ice planet like Hoth, a specialized snowtrooper can function for a longer period of time with higher combat effectiveness because normal stormtrooper armour will switch to self-contained air supplies in the extreme cold, and those air supplies are only designed for short operating durations. There are many types of specialized stormtroopers:
Snowtroopers, who were seen in TESB during the Battle of Hoth. Even in the severe cold of Hoth they are comfortably warm in their heated suits, and can survive for up to two weeks in deeply frozen environments on battery power alone (ref. SWVD). Their boots are designed to provide maximum traction on ice surfaces, for superior combat effectiveness.
Dark troopers (seen at right), who wear powerful exoskeletal powered armor suits carrying massive weaponry which makes them formidable self-contained weapon platforms (ref. SWE). These elite stormtroopers are trained to have limited control over the Dark Side of The Force (hence their name), thus greatly enhancing their combat effectiveness and lethality (ref. Rebellion). Their exoskeletal armor has enormous physical strength, and they are capable of extended flight maneuvers. Their formidable armament includes heavy automatic blasters and missile launchers.
Scout troopers, who were seen in ROTJ during the Battle of Endor. They carry light armour but they have extra food supplies, survival gear, and specialized infiltration equipment which allows them to function independently for long periods of time and perform dangerous covert operations, without resupply by Imperial forces (ref. SWVD). This capability is essential to their specialization, which is independent operation in isolated areas for extended durations.
Air troopers (ref. SWVD), who are equipped with jet packs for flight. These jet packs are similar to the flight pack used by the infamous bounty hunter Boba Fett. However, air trooper flight equipment has far superior speed and range compared to Boba Fett's makeshift flight gear.
Sea troopers (ref. SWE), who can function underwater for extended periods.
Tunneling underminer troopers (ref. SWVD), who have specialized equipment for cutting through silicate material to tunnel under fortifications and other barriers.
Magma troopers, who specialize in crushing revolts on volcanic mining worlds (ref. SWVD). Their armor can withstand long-term exposure to molten lava.
Radiation troopers (ref. SWE), who can function in regions of intense radiation for extended periods of time without injury. Their armor carries special shielding to block extremely penetrative radiation types.
Zero-G troopers, who have extended air supplies for long-term operation in the vacuum of space. They also carry flight packs for zero-g maneuvering, and miniature proton torpedo launchers for breaching starship hulls.
In conclusion, the stormtrooper represents an improved breed of soldier, with more firepower, more armour, and better communications and tactical data-gathering equipment. While the Federation foot soldier is actually inferior to his modern-day counterpart, the Imperial foot soldier represents the next step. It should therefore not come as a surprise that many aspects of the stormtrooper's suit (particularly the full-time NBC protection and battle helmet with integrated two-way voice communications and IR/night-sight imaging) are often featured in long-term plans for the evolution of the real-life soldier. Strangely enough, none of the world's armies seem to be interested in the Federation's alternate philosophy, which is to eliminate all heavy weapons, become totally dependent on air support, dispense with helmets entirely, and wear pajamas instead of flak jackets :)
The Empire has numerous varieties of special weaponry for which no real-life counterpart exists.
Light Sabres: although melee weapons don't figure heavily in most ground combat discussions, it would be unconscionable to leave a discussion of Star Wars ground combat technology without mentioning the light sabre. The light sabre is an unusual weapon; its blade can apparently cut through any known material, even heavy blast doors several feet thick (as demonstrated in TPM). A great many past discussions have revolved around its physical properties and mechanism, and I will refrain from adding any more ideas to this mix (see Robert Brown's web site for more information, if you're curious). For the purposes of this discussion, I will say only that in the hands of a skilled user (eg. a Jedi Knight), a light sabre is an extremely dangerous weapon even at long range, because it can deflect blaster bolts in any arbitrary direction. While Luke Skywalker never achieved more than middling proficiency with this weapon, Obi-Wan Kenobi in his prime could easily hit Neimoidian battle droids with targeted ricochets from their own blaster bolts. However, for the average soldier, the light sabre is little more than a dangerous dalliance. No one without a Jedi's superhuman skills and prescient abilities would be able to use one to deflect blaster bolts, and the length of study required to become proficient in its use as a melee weapon would be prohibitive and wasteful. At best, it would be used as a demolition weapon, to quickly cut support members, breach bulkheads, or slice holes in blast doors.
Sonic weapons: It is likely that Imperial troops will regularly find themselves functioning as a quasi-police force, quelling riots and controlling crowds. If mass extermination is not called for, the soldiers will need a wide-area non-lethal crowd suppression weapon. Enter the sonic weapon, which uses sound waves to stun everyone within a fixed radius. For example, according to the SWEGWT, the PDS SG-82 sonic rifle can stun or even kill, at high amplitude settings. Of course, most users must wear a dampening helmet to protect themselves from the sonic discharge, but stormtroopers can fire these weapons without such protection. The range of the PDS SG-82 is roughly 35 metres, and interestingly enough, this is one of the few weapons that are actually more effective underwater, where most weapons are either useless or severely weakened. It is noteworthy that the potential of the sonic weapon is currently being researched by various organizations including the United States military in real life. Theoretically, a real-life high-frequency sonic weapon can cause excruciating pain and eventually, unconsciousness or perhaps even death. However, the threat of permanent deafness is a potential stumbling block (although the Empire wouldn't think much of it).
Seekers: we have all seen the remote that Luke used for practice in ANH. It was programmed for training purposes and its blasts were set to cause a mild shock rather than incapacity or death. However, remotes can also be used for combat. Their diminutive size makes them very difficult to hit, their repulsorlift propulsion systems give them good mobility, and a large group of combat remotes would be a convenient way to sow confusion behind an enemy position prior to an attack (or even during the attack). When target discrimination abilities are added to the standard functions, a combat remote is known as a "seeker". For example, the SWEGWT describes the Arakyd Mark VII Inquisitor, which has a maximum speed of 40 km/h, a maximum altitude of 50 metres, and a 100-shot ammunition capacity. It can be programmed as an assassination device by giving it a specific target profile, or it can be programmed for indiscriminate termination of all non-Imperial personnel. It uses a combination of optical, audio, infrared, and genetic sensors to track and identify its target, and once released into the environment it will mercilessly hunt down its prey, not stopping for any reason unless it is destroyed before it can accomplish its mission. The remote's appearance may not be intimidating, but even if a remote only kills a handful of men before being destroyed, it will have more than paid for itself. Combat remotes would be even more deadly in a high ECM environment, where automated defenses would be ineffective and they would be exceedingly difficult to hit with manually aimed small-arms fire (particularly at night). In such a situation, a swarm of combat remotes could potentially be used as a devastating "softening up" attack prior to a full-scale assault, causing heavy casualties and sowing mass confusion in the midst of the enemy line.
Field disruptors: The SWEGWT contains a lengthy description of field disruptors such as the Aeramaxis Evasive-13, which are designed to defeat security forcefields. These devices create an "energy bubble" which injures or kills anyone who comes into contact with it (thus making it a handy close-quarters defensive device) and which overloads defense fields (although huge forcefields would overwhelm the device). They are normally used for Spec Ops rather than standard battlefield operations, but an installation which foolishly relies on forcefields rather than heavy armoured doors would be an ideal situation for combat usage. Rather than waste time blasting through each forcefield with proton grenades, a strike squad could simply use these devices to walk through. The Borg employ similar technologies in order to walk through forcefields, but in their case, they use frequency synchronization instead of brute force. Luckily for them, the Federation's predilection for phase-coherent technology makes this feasible.
Holoshrouds: The SWEGWT describes holographic image disguisers like the Correlidyne CQ-3.9X, which look like oversized belt buckles and which project a hologram that can temporarily confuse an enemy by making the wearer appear to be something he's not. The hologram obviously must be larger than the wearer for this effect to work, but it can supposedly fool the naked human eye. In theory, a device like this could be used as a camouflage device, to let soldiers pretend to be rocks, animals, or some other innocuous-looking non-combatant. However, like many real-life specialized devices, it has weaknesses:
It has a finite battery capacity so it can't run for very long.
It cannot "sample" an object on its own, and a sufficiently high resolution scan is not available from the conventional low-resolution devices normally used for communications (for a real-life analogy, think of the difference between a telephone handset microphone and professional studio recording microphone). According to the SWEGWT, Correlidyne also sells a high-density CX-3.1 holo-recorder for this purpose.
It can only hold one image at a time.
Given these characteristics, it is clear that these devices are better suited to assassination or Spec Ops missions than standard-issue battlefield duty for millions upon millions of stormtroopers. This is not to say that they would be useless on the battlefield, but they would only be useful in particular circumstances. For example, in an attack against a very well defended position, holoshrouds could be used in conjunction with seekers and ECM in order to soften up the target prior to the main assault. The ECM would keep the defenders from correctly identifying the shrouded attacker until it's too late, and if holoshrouds were strapped onto oversized seekers (eg. the Sith probe droids in TPM, upon which an external weapon mount is visible and labelled as such in the Episode I Visual Dictionary), they could be disguised as birds. A defense line is not likely to be alarmed at the sight of birds (until they open fire), so this would make seekers highly effective even against a very well defended target.
Holoshrouds would be even more effective in a high ECM environment at night. Enemy soldiers will be limited to naked-eye sighting (particularly in the case of the Federation, whose troops are lost without their tricorders), so a large region of blackness could provide fairly effective camouflage for a squad of soldiers or even more effective camouflage for a swarm of combat remotes.
Planetary and Theatre shields: Planetary and theatre shields were seen in ANH, TESB, and TPM, as well as being described in the SWEGWT and many other technical books. The planetary theatre shield is one of those rare devices (like the original machine gun or ballistic fire control) which can actually transform military tactics in a significant way. The history of warfare has generally seen a steady increase in the power of weapons versus defenses, in virtually all aspects of warfare from infantry combat to naval combat and even air combat. Modern defensive technologies usually seek to kill an attacker rather than surviving his attack, thus embodying the old adage that "the best defense is a good offense". Man-portable anti-tank weapons have grown powerful enough to make city streets a potential death trap for even the most heavily armoured main battle tanks, and a modern "fortified" position foils an attacker with guns and mines rather than walls. The situation is no different in the skies: while the WW2-era B-17 "Flying Fortress" was renowned for its ability to withstand tremendous punishment from AA guns and enemy aircraft, no modern aircraft has a reasonable expectation of surviving a single hit. And on the ocean, while WW1-era battleships used their massive armour to deflect enemy attacks, the lethality of air power to even the heaviest battleships (as demonstrated by the example of the Yamato) meant that modern warships would have to use sophisticated air defense systems in order to prevent the impact in the first place.
Strong planetary and theatre shields change all of that, and in an ironic twist, the advent of this sophisticated technology tends to lead to throwback military tactics, some of which are reminiscent of the classical era. A shielded planet is very much like an ancient walled city in many ways: it cannot be attacked by lightly armed forces, so the best course of action is to take a cue from Homer's Odyssey: lay siege to the walled city, er ... shielded planet, and if possible, try to sneak something inside. The only alternative is to bring huge siege weapons in order to blast through (eg. small, large, or Death Star-sized superlasers). A theatre shield is very similar: although it could be defeated through wholesale destruction (eg. massive planetary bombardment which liquefies the ground under the shield), that kind of assault is only useful if you intend to obliterate the target rather than capturing it. While this may be the objective on rare occasions, the history of warfare shows us that total obliteration is usually not the objective of an assault. In fact, "scorched Earth" is a defensive tactic (used by the Russians against Operation Barbarossa in WW2), because it does no one any good to seize territory if it has been reduced to a smoking ruin.
However, the theatre shield is not identical to a planetary shield. While a planetary shield exists mostly in space, a theatre shield must interact with the ground. Its design must therefore be altered accordingly. According to the SWEGWT, any object which touches a planetary shield receives a tremendous blast of energy and is instantly vapourized. That effect was demonstrated in ROTJ, when Rebel starships exploded on contact with the Death Star's defense shield. However, this would be counter-productive (to say the least) for a theatre shield, where it would vapourize the ground at the point of contact and quickly overload its generator. Therefore, theatre shields must employ some form of contact discrimination, so that they don't burn themselves out by vapourizing huge quantities of dirt and rock, but they still perform their primary function. If the Gungan theatre shield is any indication of standard Star Wars theatre shield technology, this discrimination is performed through ground contact. Since the shield applies only mild force at its point of ground contact (as demonstrated by the audible "thump" when it struck the ground in TPM), it is possible for an object to slip through if it moves slowly through the barrier while maintaining contact with the ground. Repulsorcraft, missiles, bomb, energy beams, and starfighters cannot enter through such a shield, but foot soldiers, wheeled or tracked vehicles, and walkers can.
The effect is very similar to the effect of ancient fortifications. Walled cities and castles once nullified the shock and power of the cavalry charge, and basically took them completely out of the equation in favour of siege weapons or foot soldiers. When siege weapons were unavailable or ineffective, lightly armed foot soldiers would have to cross moats or scale the walls in the face of murderous defenses such as bowmen in the towers and great vats of burning oil. The cavalry and men wearing heavy armour were relegated to the status of observers in this kind of operation, impotent until the attackers could breach the defenses and open a path for them. In practice, this gave enormous advantages to the defender, and often forced the attacker into siege mode. Similarly, a theatre shield forces an attacker to enter the shield without air support or repulsorcraft, fight his way to the shield generator, and then destroy it before he can bring the full weight of his forces to bear. In practice, the attacker would need huge advantages in other areas in order to successfully pull off such an attack (eg. the Empire's walkers versus the Rebels' light field artillery, or the Trade Federation's blaster rifles versus the Gungans' energy spheres). Without those advantages, an attack would be futile (or in the case of Federation troops, which are totally dependent on air support, it would be suicidal).