Tanks vs Troops

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Which is better, Heavy Weapon Platforms or Human Weapon Platforms? Submersible Weapon Platforms or Submersible Warm-blooded Personnel? The debate rages!

Pros and cons, in no particular order for now, include:

Pro:

  • HWP/SWPs (hereafter referred to as "Tanks") are more expendable, and so can be used as forward scouts.
    • I'm not sure how we argue they are "more expendable" since even basic tanks cost as much as 10 raw recruits. By the time your men are skilled enough to be worth ten times that, are tanks still useful?
      • They can be thought as more expendable in the sense that the rookies that they take the shot for will not lose the accumulated experience they've earned. They are not expendable in the financial sense in the early game. In the late game, when money is one of the easiest resources to obtain, their cost no longer outweighs the benefits of having a throw-away psi-immune mobile bullet shield.
  • Tanks have higher TUs and Firing accuracy at the start of the game, and probably into the middle.
  • Tanks are cheaper over the long run, if they survive long enough, since they don't cost salaries every month. (Though I doubt the lifetime of an average tank is that long).
  • Tanks are useful on base defence because you get free ammo for them.
    • But only if you hadn't bought the ammo anyway, which you would have done if you were using the tanks for anything except base garrison. And they still use up 4 soldier slots, so unless they are good combat units, they are 'useful' only in saving a small amount of money - peanuts compared to losing a base.
      • Though it's a good way to get a bit back for the ridiculous high cost of building Fusion /Hovertank ammo.
  • Tanks seem to attract opportunity fire from aliens, making them highly useful as decoys to draw enemy fire, expose enemies, and thus protect friendlies. Until such time as the tank gets killed, anyway.
    • TFTD's Coelecanths appear to have an intermittent immunity to opportunity fire, setting them slightly apart from their UFO cousins.
  • Tanks don't go to sickbay. If you can get them back to base with even 1 point of mechanical "Health" remaining, they get repaired instantly.
  • Since each tank replaces 4 Soldiers, that's arguably an extra 4 Scientists you could hire instead of those Soldiers/Aquanauts. This might make a big difference early in the game.
  • If you lose a tank, you don't have to train a new tank up. You just buy or build one and it has exactly the same stats as its predecessor. So, compared to relying on human warriors, this decreases your exposure to casualties, and decreases the necessity to avoid casualties.
  • Unlike soldiers, you can keep spares laying around, and all it costs you is Stores space, not any salary.
  • And if you have excellent manufacturing capabilities, you may be able to replace an advanced tank much faster than you can replace a soldier.
  • Non-explosive tank munitions tend to be more powerful than their hand-held counterparts, with the exception of the plasma hovertank's plasma beam which deals 5 less points than the heavy plasma. In comparison, TFTD's Sonic Displacer is vastly more powerful than its counterpart, but lacks the accuracy a veteran aquanaut can grant a Sonic Cannon.
  • Tanks are immune to stun, smoke and largely immune to incendiaries. This can be helpful if you use a lot of these types of materials, especially early in the game when your warm-blooded soldiers are lightly armoured and susceptible to them.
  • Each tank on the battlefield means 3 less units to move around each turn. And you don't have to mess about in the Equip screen before each battle, fixing their equipment loadout. A great labour-saving invention!
  • Tank/Rocket Launcher carries more reloads than a single person, in addition it can fire more often or fire and move without pausing to reload.
  • In early game while aliens are still using plasma pistols, even tracked tanks survive hits as a rule, recruits rarely do.
  • Tanks can't be turned into more Cryssalids/Tentaculats - a dead tank is better than a dead soldier and twice the trouble.

Con:

  • Each tank replaces 4 soldiers in any battle. Is one tank really more useful than 4 soldiers? It almost certainly will have approximately 3 TU bars worth of firepower and less tactical flexibility and maneuverability of four soldiers.
  • A tank in the mouth of the landing craft interferes with the tactic of throwing a Smoke Grenade at the base of the ramp on turn 1. Workarounds include having the tank pop out and back in after the grenade is thrown or throwing the grenade further away (a weak soldier can chuck a grenade past the tank but a strong soldier's arc will not clear the ceiling).
  • Explosive tank weapons are mildly less powerful than their handheld counterparts. Advanced ammunition is considerably more expensive to build than the equivalent man-carried weapon ammunition.
  • There is no way to carry reloads for tank weapons, unlike man-carried weapons.
  • Armour for starting tanks is rubbish, unless you use a mod such as the XComUtil "Improved Tanks" mod. If you are playing the game as designed, or as implemented, starting tanks are barely more than decoys. They do have the honour of being better than your unarmoured units.
  • Replacing a basic tank generally takes longer than hiring a replacement new recruit (96hrs vs 72hrs)
  • Tanks take extra damage from HE area effect attacks, being 4-square units.
  • Advanced tanks can be very expensive to build and operate, especially when the hidden costs of materials and labour are fully accounted for.
  • TFTD's Gauss Coelacanth has ammo loss anomalies where ammunition vanishes after each mission or when it is so much as taken off a sub. The disproportionately high ammo costs for the Fusion compared to its results, etc.
  • Tanks can only have one weapon and one ammo type, shooting from one place.
  • The cost one rocket tank is the same as 4 troops ($160,000) with Rocket Launchers ($16,000)with two round each ($600 a shot x 8 = $4800) total cost $180800, you save $299200 by not takeing the tank you can get 6 more troops with rifles.
  • The need for $480,000 per tank,the same money buy 10 troops and weapons.

Any more thoughts? Personally, I never use tanks except perhaps to fill in after I've taken bad casualties. For that, and emergency base defence, I might keep one or two around. Other people swear by them and send one or even two on every mission, e.g. the guy who completed the game in record time. (That probably just speaks to having fewer units to move each turn!). Some think a tank is appropriate for a terror mission, when extra firepower is needed. Rocket launcher tanks (and their big brothers, Fusion hovertanks) are undoubtably impressive at clearing a battlefield, if you don't mind having nothing but roasted fragments left over to sell at the Geneva bake-sale.

See Also