If the Imperial Guard are famous for anything then surely it must be the devastating firepower they can bring to a battlefield in quantities and quality unseen anywhere else in the grim darkness of Warhammer 40,000. While the heavy guns are usually restricted to the tanks and artillery, the infantry corps are capable of maintaining and firing many of the much larger weapons - even if it takes two pairs of hands to operate them! These Heavy Weapon Squads give an Infantry Platoon its greatest punch and offset the significantly weaker lasguns to pound all foes into submission - so long as it bleeds blood or oil and is deemed unworthy of the Emperor's gaze, it is a target just like any other. I hope you enjoy this article!
This is the third of five Infantry Platoon articles.
Heavy Weapons Squad
If there is one good thing about a Heavy Weapons Squad it would be that it is reasonably cheap and thus when it dies you won't feel too guilty about the units' sacrifice, though unfortunately I feel this unit really should be a bit cheaper than it currently is. What this squad boils down to is a trio of Heavy Weapon Teams, singular models with the Bulky special rule that are formed by the joining (not that kind) of two regular Guardsmen and Guardswomen. Because of the sheer size and power of the various and devastating heavy weapons the Imperium employs it takes two human soldiers to carry one into battle as opposed to just one Space Marine. This sadly doesn't really help them to survive oncoming fire which will be directed at them once your opponents realize just how fragile a Heavy Weapons Squad is, as three models with 5+ armour saves and two wounds each at Toughness 3 will be annihilated by anything from boltguns to Serpent Shields in short order. That the latter is so common and comes packed with Ignores Cover means that taking Heavy Weapons Squads against Eldar in particular is effectively wasted points given that they will probably only get one shooting phase - if at all - before they are slaughtered.
This is my main issue with Heavy Weapons Squads and it ties into why they belong in a Combined Squad; protecting Heavy Weapon Teams with lots of cheap infantry models means your opponent has to cut through several models before your long range firepower starts taking a hit, whereas Heavy Weapon Squads have no such luxury and lose effectiveness almost immediately. They can't defend themselves in combat with two attacks each with all the "threes" for stats albeit two attacks per model, an issue that a wall of Guardsmen backed by a Ministorum Priest or Commissar can alleviate, while their low Leadership and inability to take a Sergeant or Vox Caster makes them unreliable beneficiaries of Orders. That the unit is so small and fragile also makes it a poor choice for Commissars or other Independent Characters to join if you did want to fix that annoying issue of Leadership - on that front, losing just one Heavy Weapon Team out of the three forces a morale test on Leadership 7.
As appealing as they might seem for an infantry-centric Astra Militarum list as a relatively cheap way to add some more heavy firepower to an army, the unit is just so fragile and easily countered by almost any codex that it is really difficult to justify taking them - especially if you are already packing Heavy Weapon Teams as part of Combined Squads. While this unit is massively flawed I would be lying if I said it was expensive, even if it is over-priced for what it does. For roughly the same price of one squad of five Space Marine Devastators with lascannons, you can take two Heavy Weapon Squads with autocannons for triple the amount of shots - if you care little for a units' survivability and purely for its damage output then the rate of fire and points per shot of a Heavy Weapons Squad isn't bad at all when considering its competitors.
Unfortunately, Warhammer 40,000 is not a game where any single unit can get a "free pass" to do as it pleases; counters exist and opponents will use them to destroy your valuable units as quickly as they can. If Heavy Weapon Squads didn't pay an unnecessary fifteen point tax over what three Heavy Weapon Teams taken individually would cost and had some way of adding either regular Guardsmen or Conscripts as bullet sponges then it would be a good, if not great unit for its points that would actually be worth investing your valuable but limited support or psychic abilities into. As it is though, this is probably the weakest of the five different Platoon units because even with protection from an Aegis Defence Line and nearby squads the unit is just far too fragile and prone to fleeing to really provide a return on investment. They can be viewed as a somewhat inexpensive way of adding some extra anti-tank shooting into an army list but such a role can easily be performed by any number of the Leman Russ variants, Manticores, Basilisks and so on.
How to Equip Them
While I might usually ask what kind of firepower - anti-infantry or anti-tank - is lacking from your army and thus have your Heavy Weapon Squads or Devastator equivalents built around that, this unit definitely should be geared for anti-tank. Your basic infantry are incapable of dealing with vehicles at medium to long ranges and Heavy Weapon Teams are the answer to this problem without having to resort to Leman Russ variants or Basilisks and other artillery. Lasguns and the hull heavy bolters on nearly every Imperial ground vehicle will be more than enough for killing infantry so make sure that your Heavy Weapon Squads have autocannons or lascannons for tank suppression. Mortars would be interesting if they weren't so poor and completely outclassed by Wyverns, while heavy bolters are common everywhere in an Astra Militarum list.
The choice then comes down to autocannons, missile launchers and lascannons, a decision that isn't nearly as easy as it was in the 5th Edition codex. The points cost disparity has shrunk while twin-linking via psychic powers or Preferred Enemy are more accessible than ever. Each of the three weapons has their own niche to fill and I think that you can take any of them and feel comfortable about your choice, though let us look at each one in a bit more detail. Autocannons are the best light vehicle destroyer by far due to their rate of fire and nice Strength 7, their preferred targets being AV11 and AV10 vehicles such as Rhinos, Venoms and Tauroxes. Missile Launchers are billed as a generalist weapon but their frag shell is pretty weak except against tightly clustered light infantry, though they are slightly better than autocannons against AV12 and AV13 vehicles such as Dreadnoughts or Ghost Arks. It also bears mentioning that autocannons are pretty poor against most monstrous creatures except when taken en masse, while missile launchers can quite easily strip wounds off of most Tyranid monstrous creatures and so on. Lascannons are the only choice of the three that has the (minor) potential to cause an Explodes result on a non open-topped vehicle and are much better at taking wounds off of pesky Riptides and Wraithknights than the other two, but it is the most expensive of course.
I generally prefer autocannons on Ballistic Skill 3 models with a doubled rate of fire making up for their inaccuracy, but I feel that with the ever increasing importance of tanks that lascannons may be better because of how important AP2 is now with the tweaked vehicle damage table. This does come with a disclaimer though that lascannons shine more with re-rolls to hit from psychic powers or some other means because they are inaccurate, while autocannons are preferable if you lack those abilities or prefer to invest them elsewhere. Missile Launchers fill an interesting middle role but I feel that their frag shell isn't all that great no matter how often I see it used, while the krak shell is far inferior to the lascannon. By the by, krak grenades are funny but much better for Infantry Squads that don't really care if they move; Heavy Weapon Squads should just shoot the target instead of sticking grenades to them!
Continuing on from the previous section and assuming you have equipped your Heavy Weapon Squad(s) with your anti-tank weapon of choice, the question then becomes how to protect these incredibly fragile units. The reality is that three Toughness 3 models with six wounds between them and puny 5+ armour saves makes for a heavy duty shooting unit with very little in the way of survivability, making them one of the easiest and most obvious targets for opponents. This is why I feel an Aegis Defence Line or other form of fortification is absolutely crucial for an infantry-based Astra Militarum list as not only do you provide cover to dozens of models but your key scoring and shooting units also get the protection they require.
Heavy Weapon Squads suffer from being unable to relocate without sacrificing their firepower seeing as each of their weapons has the Heavy type, while the lack of "fodder" bodies means that each casualty sees the strength of the unit decrease significantly. This is why supporting them with Infantry Squads or even static Combined Squads is optimal as you can use those units as bullet shields or hold up melee assailants. Ultimately the only real way to keep them safe is to have them either embarked on a building with firing ports or behind cover that provides a 4+ save; you can't add extra models nor improve their standard saving throws otherwise. Make sure to combine "Bring it down" and Prescience with the Heavy Weapons Squad whenever they are available - as in not being used on a more important Combined Squad or Heavy Artillery Battery - to maximise their unreliable damage output.
Thank you so much for reading this piece and I hope that you found at least some part of it useful. My Astra Militarum Tactica is far from finished and I am always taking in feedback provided by our awesome fans to help improve and shape future content. Please feel free to leave a comment if you have any suggestions or criticism for me and I will do my best to respond and take it under consideration. Thank you all so much again and I hope you enjoy your day!