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Deliberate parallels between the TSAB's (elite) mages and medieval knights, as well as the ban on kinetics.
In medieval times, a knight was uncommon, an elite, a noble. He had special training, probably trained from the moment he could start swinging a sword, and equipment. He could cut down swathes of inferior opponents. Attempts were made to stop the proliferation of the crossbow and gun under the fear that they would make knights obsolete. A peasant with one needed only hours, maybe days of drill and could kill a knight with ease, render all that cost and training time moot. Even if it took several peasants to gun down a knight, with the knight killing some of them in the process, the net cost would still be in favour of those arming the peasants.
Compare to the Bureau. C or B-mages might form the Redshirt Army, but like knights there are elites who stand head-and-shoulders above their "commoner" peers. With the Belkan Knights the parallel is made even more Anvilicious. Making the reasonable assumption that the Bureau has other special groups akin to the Forwards, we can see that they have special training to levels the redshirts do not. Special equipment is obvious with all the unique Devices. One has little reason to doubt that Signum, Nanoha or the other high-tier fighters could deal with weak magical opponents easily. A few crash-coursed upstarts with kinetic weaponry could undo all that investment in an instant. We would have to raise the power levels appropriately - rail/coilguns or tank-killer penetrators - but the overall cost of some of those and their operators would still be worth it to our hypothetical aggressor if they could eliminate a high-tier mage from the playing field.
Now, when all that is said and done, this suggests that kinetics will come into greater play eventually. The question is whether canon will bother to address this point, and if not, will capable hands rise to do so in fan works?
- Problem: existing kinetic weapons have been shown to be absolutely inferior to mages of even basic ability, much less the Aces themseles. Jail's forces were only a threat to the bureau because of the AMF fields, as proven by Genya Nakajima's 108th battalion, who held off a good portion of Jail's gadget forces in the finale armed only with their basic equipment and anti-AMF training provided by RF 6. Further, the weapons equipped to said drones are a rather telling indicator of how advanced mass weapons are; the Type-1s have laser bolts and tentacle manipulators, the Type-2s have missiles, the Type-3s have lasers and robot arms, and the Type-4s have claws. If that's the best that the resident mad scientist can come up with to arm his drones with, then I don't think the Aces are going to have to worry about railguns any time in this lifetime, and if a C-rank mage can handle a drone with the best available mass weapons then the Aces have nothing to fear from them. Unless there's an Eclipse Driver involved.
- I seriously doubt the Gadget Drones, designed to be as cheap and expendable as possible, were equipped with the best mass weapons available. On the other hand, exactly what kind of logic leads to the 'lasers = no railguns'.
- Further problem, and essential death of the theory: Soundstage X actually does feature the Mariage using mass weaponry. Subaru Nakajima's Barrier Jacket soaks an antitank railgun without significant effort. This is Midchilda and they have starships, so this could well mean that attempts to harm mages with mass weapons are futile. Even in the best case and it's an RPG or Carl Gustav clone, it puts a B-ranker on a par with a Main Battle Tank. The bar on the high jump to injure a mage is not easily reached.
- An issue cited by Erio in one episode is an allusion to what the real concern is, namely weapons of mass destruction, pointing out that a child with virtually no training could essentially wipe out a city with a press of a button (probably not figuring the resources needed to construct such a weapon or the work needed to set it up so it can be launched with the press of a button, but still...). In StrikerS, we're introduced to the Saint's Cradle, which is essentially a gigantic weapons system of the type so feared by the Bureau. And it's worth pointing out that during the main battle, most of which we don't get to see because of the focus on the main characters, it's implied that all the mages on the ground and in the air are being hard-pressed by the gadget drones. It's worth pointing out that had Riot Force 6 not been tying up the Numbers that they defensive lines would have been broken completely in a relatively short period of time. Also, the main problem pointed out above is the fact that Jail was able to produce countless numbers of Gadget Drones over a relatively short period of time, while it takes months or even years of training to produce mages of sufficient competency to be a threat. Given that the Bureau forces were (with the exception of R.F. 6) on the defensive throughout the entire battle means that the Gadget Drones were serving their purpose, since the mages needed to go on the offensive in order to have any hope of victory. The Gadget Drones were mostly there to keep the mages in check until the Cradle could reach the prime position for orbital bombardment. If it weren't for Section 6, who had put a ton of work into training specifically to combat AMF equipped weapons, it is very likely that Jail would have won.
- The Mariage thing is commonly brought up as a point against conventional weapons, but on closer look it is overinflated: One must recognise that the cyborg zombie took its time to fire, presumably giving Subaru time to bring up barriers and shielding, but still hurt her greatly enough that she would probably not have survived without being a Combat Cyborg. A serious opponent would presumably not be so stupid, but instead use sneak attacks/sniper railgun etc. so only the Barrier Jacket stands in the way of the attack. Yes, multiple-A and above mages may need much more effort, I will not deny. However, having most of the Redshirt Army under threat would pose a serious operational problem if the series actually cared about military realities such as holding ground/the line while the commandos/knights/elite mages did their thing.
- The Mariage did attack from ambush. Hence how it was able to 'take its time to fire'. And it was only Subaru's barrier jacket in the way, and it was a sniper *anti-tank* railgun (an older one, granted). I'd say that's damn well good enough.
- BDZ: I'll try to resist snarking too much. The main issue is that high level mages are not completely invincible, excepting, perhaps, the use of certain Lost Logia. Mass weapons can defeat them. Magic can defeat them. If they get overwhelmed by a bunch of lower-level mages, they lose - they can't attack or defend against everything at once. Remember the 20 some Enforcers that had pinned down Vita and Zafira? (Vita was pretty confident, but she'd be pretty confident against anything.) That's why they're essentially used as shocktroopers and special forces: you use them to attack key points in support of your main forces. Of course, they *are* much more powerful than modern special forces, who are typically lightly equipped - Ace mages combine the firepower of a tank with the manuverability of an aircraft, and the versatility of infantry. The TSAB held the line just fine against the Gadget Drones - platforms designed specifically to counter their weapons. It's true that the Gadgets were cheap... but that showed in the massive disparity of numbers (that the TSAB was still defeating), and it wasn't like the TSAB had its entire forces there. The reason the Numbers could have broken the line was because... they're high level mages (or a very good ersatz), and that, plus the stress all along, was enough that they could break through at any point, allowing Scaglietti's legions to attack from behind, or reach Clanagan (and I doubt their target recognition is anything other than 'shoot anything that isn't broadcasting a friendly IFF)/the GFCC (Again)). It's true that Scaglietti's forces (which could be called 'conventional' only in the crudest sense) technically 'won' in three out of four of their major ground engagements. But let's look as what those engagements entailled:
- 1st was a bolt-from-the-blue attack at a hardened but non-alert target. Scaglietti's forces were successful in besieging the target thanks to special forces action to disable the bulk of its defenses, but were unable to penetrate en-masse: the fail-safe defenses and secondary systems took over almost immediately! Once inside, Scaglietti's elites, however, were able to... ambush and kidnap a lone TSAB officer. Specifically, a Master Sergeant. Note that a large number of the TSAB and Mid-Childa CDF high command, as well as political and media figures (including the C-in-C of the Capital Defense Forces, who Scaglietti had a personal grudge against, and Scaglietti is not one to not let personal grudges get in the way of tactical planning), were also present in the building, but were not attacked. Jail then melodramatically announced he would destroy the GFCC, after his force had successfully ambushed and occupied the immediate response force... an Aerial Forces section. Meanwhile, his forces attacked an undefended base (contrary to what RTS's might tell you, a typical military base is not an impregnible fortress.), burned down a building with RA artillery, and abducted a 7 year old. They were then driven off by a combination of TSAB reinforcements and an S Sish mage (Voltaire - magical creature, anyways).
- 2nd was a... elite mages performing a special forces action against an artillery position(?) with a section-sized garrisson, supported by the flying cannon fodder known as Gadget Drones. They won handily.
- 3rd was a *real* action, a massed assault on Clanagan intended to keep the ground forces occupied so they couldn't... attack... a spaceship. Okay. (I'd suggest the real objective was something else, but I can't prove that.) The TSAB successfully held out with limited forces (they had some on hand, but not enough to fight an entire army - it's like if Al-Qaeda followed up 9/11 with a massed landing in New York City, plus unveiling that they had obtained control of Atlantis's nuclear arsenal), sending one of their many Striker sections to counter the enemy's advance. While Scaglietti's legions technically accomplished their apparent objective, I give this to the TSAB overall. Surprisingly enough, pinning the Ground Forces/CDF in place did nothing to prevent the Aerial Forces from attacking and boarding Scaglietti's starship, and the one Special Forces squad completely defeated the enemy elites (I suspect Scaglietti planned for them to die, though). Nota bene: the most impressive of the bunch was one moderately powered/trained mage obliteraiting *three* more powerful enemies. Granted, that was through exploitation of Scaglietti's questionable training methods, but still... it puts the lie to the idea 'low ranked mages can't defeated higher ranked mages' (higher ranked super-mages in armor designed especaly to counter mere human mages, at that. And better than obliterating actually: obliterated enemies can't fight for you. Also kinda tragic.) That's without even counting that Nanoha was weaker than Fate to begin with... or a group of A-AAA mages defeating an *SSS* rank (granted, a rather nonsentient SSS rank).
- (BDZ Cont.) There was also the Battle (or rather massacre) of Clanagan Bay. The MRLS M-270 is nice, but it doesn't fly, nor shoot guided tac-nukes (at aircraft (comparable to F-22s in speed/manuverability!). And then conjure space-time distortions.)
Anyways, I suppose the point of this long rambling discussion is to say this: Elite mages are really powerful. But they're not invincible, nor is the series an excercise in class warfare (Nanoha lives in a fracking townhouse). With the benefit of excellent training, surprise, and other firepower multipliers, they can accomplish amazing things - in that way, they are somewhat like knights (although in methodology they're a bit more like commandos). And yes, they *could* be overwhelmed by a handful of guys weilding mass weapons. But they could also be overwhelmed by a handful of lesser mages as well - it's not an issue of 'mass weapons mean the rich guys can get hurt', and that doesn't make them worthless. A Nimitz' class aircraft carrier, centerpiece of the USN, is an overwhelming advantage on the battlefield, but it costs something like 6.2 billion dollars, without even counting the planes. A $3,800,000 torpedo can snap it half. A main battle tank costs something in the area of 6,500,000, yet can be destroyed by a $85,000 missile. This does not make them worthless or obsolete. It's not quite like that, anyways: you need heavy weapons to efficiently take down high-level mages, and to actually match them... you basically need Mobile Infantry power armor, only better. Magic has its advantages - it burns through nonliving matter like paper, yet can be made (or simply is) nonlethal - very nice for counterinsurgency/police operations (imagine if every weapon in the US Army had a less lethal option). It requires minimal supply, and has the ability to produce effects that would... difficult... with conventional weapons system. A barrier jacket provides defenses normally associated with heavy armored vehicles... while looking like street clothing (or it could anyways)). It turns normal humans into reflex-boosted flying super-strong leviathans. Which reminds me: don't forget that mages aren't just dumb hunks of firepower and barriers. So you've got a bunch of guys in cover, waiting to ambush a mage with their AT weapons. Okay. What's to prevent the mage from detecting them on searchers, or with the remote probes that they can summon (if they know where to ambush, the mage knows where to scout) - or just spotting them (the mage is likely better trained at spotting ambushes than they are concealing themselves) before/as they reveal themselves, and then flying the hell out of dodge at Mach 3? Followed, of course, by saturating the area with long range burst spells - they can't exactly use civilians as cover... because magic is less-lethal. Alternatively, what's to prevent a bunch of D-rank mages waiting in hiding to ambush a high-level mage with a dozen bombardment attacks from every direction? (Besides... you know. All the things I just mentioned). Or better yet, what's to prevent a group of modestly trained mages (C/B rank (or heck, just a few such mages out of a larger group) from lying in wait, concealed by illusion spells, until their target approaches - at which time they throw a couple quick binds at them, to prevent them from running away just long enough to get hit by the aforementioned dozen some bombardment spells. (Several things, no doubt, but it's better than the original plan). I think the real issue is simply lethality. Magic has a integral less-lethal option and/or requirement (sometimes its suggested that only certain things are less-lethal... but if so, apparently everyone uses it. Most other types of weapons do not, and almost certainly not in a 'high power' form. With magic, you can have an effect that burns through a tank's armor and knocks out the crew inside. That's hard to do with a HEAT warhead/railgun/laser/whatever. Banning the more ridiculous WMD (think 'planet collapsing Imaginary Path bombs' or 'interdimensional RKK Vs') was also a concern, but not the only one... honestly, the reasons Fate gives seem a little silly. An Arc-En-Ciel, after all, is fired by the turn of a key, and 'obliterates everything within 100 kilometers' (for reference, the Tsar Bomba, the biggest nuclear weapon ever detonated, had a 'total destruction' blast radius of 25 kilometers.) This was from a weapon mounted on a police ship.