Psy Ops and Terror Tactics
So this is thought that I had recently while commenting in another thread and I thought it might be something to get a discussion going in the Liber that people can participate in, even if it's not directly commenting on someone's work.
Now, I'm not a military veteran, nor do I hold a degree in any relevant field. I have practical experience in a one-to-one capacity and I am an armchair historian and military theorist. I enjoy reading and researching things of this vein and 40k is fascinating in a theoretical application of real world theory to a relatable fantasy universe.
I think historically speaking terror tactics in terms of open warfare are shown to have increasingly diminishing returns in protracted conflicts, to the point of being detrimental as a population or enemy reacts increasingly more strongly against them, rather than being suppressed. This is in addition to only being applicable in 40k terms in a very tight set or parameters.
Psychological warfare always has a place, but that place is in concert with other operations and methodologies. It also depends what you define 'terror tactics' as, as conceivably I'd classify the Night Lords as a legion of card carrying terrorists. They prefer soft targets, operate against civilians and generally seek to do the most damage to morale and their enemies will to fight rather than military infrastructure, which has only been exaggerated with their turning traitor, along with any pretense to morality or ethics in warfare, bar a few notable individuals.
In opposition to that, I'd class the Raven Guard, and even more so the Raptors successor as using psychological warfare more effectively. They use it to terrorize their enemy when it's useful to do so, but more importantly they use it to manipulate the enemies perception of the battle or war they're fighting.
You also have to understand the modern 40k Astartes in terms of role as well as mindset. During the Great Crusade the Legions were an almost purely offensive tool. Even the defensive conflicts they fought were aggressive and focused on the outright destruction of their enemy, rather than holding territory (The Rangdan Xenocides for example). At the time of the 41st and 42nd Millennium, the modern Adeptus Astartes is almost exclusively a reactionary defensive force, as is most of the Imperial Military at this stage. Yes crusades are called and Astartes still perform in their preferred method of offensive operations (let's not talk about the Imperial Fists), but many of those are to lay low a particularly dangerous enemy or group who threatens Imperial worlds, or to reclaim lost territory.
The Adeptus Astartes respond to powerful threats more quickly and in a more focused manner than the broader arms of the Imperial Navy and Guard, but still to react to enemy military incursions. Terror tactics as a whole therefore are far less applicable. Psy-Ops still have their place, but I'd say the Reivers in this vein are actually a fairly good concept, just not on the tabletop. As it stands, Astartes are built and mandated to take on the most powerful and ferocious of opponents where psychological warfare isn't really relevant, either because you don't have the time to profile and implement such operations, or they don't respond to short-term psychological destabilization like say, a unit of PDF soldiers.
I also agree that certain races wouldn't respond as well as others, but I think a lot of people misconstrue or misapply racial traits and generalities to the effects and results of psy-ops and terror tactics.
The Orks are a really good subject here. On the broad face of it it's quite easy to qualify the race as a whole as either being too stupid, as well as too belligerent in character for 'terror tactics' to really work on them and in a lot of instances you'd be right. However there are two things that go against this on both a macro and micro scale. On the macro level, their stupidity and tribal nature leads them to be highly superstitious and susceptible to manipulation in this manner. On a micro level, they are more than capable of feeling despair and fear even up to the largest and toughest of Orks, though it is less and less effective the bigger, tougher and more self-assured an Ork becomes. I'd argue they are probably the most susceptible to a good psy-ops operation of any of the 40k races.
There are of course races that simply don't even rate. Chaos Daemons and Tyranids being almost equal right at the top, with the Necrons as a close second in terms of it being a pointless waste of resources to even try.
Someone mentioned Chaos forces as being less susceptible because they are in many ways fear and horror incarnate. I'd argue that you've totally got the wrong end of the stick. They have sold their souls to gain individual power, that is the root of every chaos followers ambition. What's one of the things that kept the Cadians fighting while their planet broke around them? Duty. Duty to your brothers in arms, duty to those you lead, duty to your race and duty to the God Emperor. Essentially they fight for the whole, not the individual. The same can be said for Loyalist Astartes; "Only in death, does duty end".
Chaos on the other hand is the very antithesis of this. The one thing that keeps them is a trifecta of fear, hatred and the drive to gain power. At the end of the day that individualist streak is the weak link in even traitor Astartes. While they are overall more capable than their mortal followers and chattel, they fear death as all that waits for them is an eternity of suffering, it's the ultimate loss of power and agency.
Now, this is a fairly broad area of application, and has a lot of factors and nuance to it and I'm fairly obviously taking this from a more Imperial perspective, so there's definitely depth I haven't gotten to here.
Bringing it to the tabletop and taking Reivers in particular, their equipment would in my opinion be better served on the tabletop as a wargear (Reiver Mask) option for assault units, to have cheap option to break tarpits, or to make your smash-captain even more expensive and versatile. It would at the very least condense some of the real overload of unit options the current codex has.
Well, this turned out to be a lot longer and wordy than I'd anticipated.
I'm really interested to hear what other people have to say, whether you agree with me or not, or whether I'm wrong on something and you could correct me I'd love to see it.