Aren't light tanks utterly useless?

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Sietrin

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I raised this very question some time ago and back then, I didn't realize how bad the issue is. Long story short: there is (almost) no point at all in researching, developing, and building light tanks. The entire point of having tanks is to get firepower, armor, and breakthrough, if a tank fails to provide any of those then it is useless, same for not being able to do it efficiently. The entire issue can be summarized in two points: the entity quantity of a battalion and the turret. The quantity is self-explanatory: less == better, the less you need of tanks to get the stats you need the cheaper a battalion is (it becomes possible to make a more expensive tank for less IC per battalion). The turret is also quite obvious to anyone who played with the tank designer: medium turrets are just the best and most efficient of all both for providing firepower and breakthrough. Everything boils down to "why even bother with light tanks to begin with and not to just build mediums (or heavies)".

Let's review some possible good use cases for light tanks, that are light SPA. light flame tank, and armored recon. Light SPA on wheels with the medium turret is very cost-efficient soft attack value but you waste army exp to develop it also sacrificing all the other stats. A light flame tank is reasonable to a degree but a medium one will give better bonuses and stats. And the most controversial one for me: the recon tank. Some plausible division templates make recon tank invaluable, just so good for its price, I had entire campaigns heavily utilizing recon tanks in the early game but... it works only against the AI, motor (or armored car with the DLC) recon is better at reckoning and if a division needs to get boosted there is flame tank ready and able in the early middle game and in the rare case a division really needs those stats there is a heavy flame tank for that, heavy flame tank will give way more stats for almost 1.5-2 time lesser price even than the most advanced recon tank, light recon is outclassed (also its bonus isn't fit to boost infantry but tank destroyers specifically while flamers do boost infantry).

But what that about getting some cheap tanks in the early game? Wouldn't light tanks excel? Actually, let's check it out. Let's take literally the best-case scenario for our light tanks: 1938 light tank chassis, three-man turret and light gun, let's do the same for the medium but taking the most basic chassis with the same preset but a medium turret instead and suspension + engines to get to 6.4 km/h as a baseline speed. Light tank battalion costs 4.08*60=244,8 and gives 15 soft attack, 18 breakthrough and 20 armor, meanwhile, medium tank battalion costs 6.88*50=344 but gives 15 soft attack, 29.9 breakthough and 20 armor. Am I telling that despite being tech ahead medium tanks are (almost) better? Yes, I am because this is the best-case scenario for light tanks, the more complex the medium tank becomes (more modules, armor, speed) the more cost-efficient it becomes because of the quantity factor. Things like reliability and speed in this case barely matter because 1940 medium chassis is overwhelmingly better at everything, not investing into light tanks in the first place preserves precious xp and research time thus little advantages like reliability barely matter in this case (though I am willing to concede some points on speed even still there are ways to make mediums quick enough to overrun infantry).

Is there a way to make light tanks great? Yes, and paradox already made some improvements (light tanks were awful earlier) and I am quite content with the way the things are right now because it is somewhat historical. So does it mean that a player is supposed to make the historically right decision and abandon the light tank concept as early as possible, dear forum dwellers?
 
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historically light tanks got outclassed/phased out along with other roles by main battle tank, and mediums were the closest before.

since you can put them on wheels and up-gun them with superstructure, they trade away breakthrough for the cheapest stats you can get otherwise on a tank platform like you say. with all the arty techs a light spg battalion will do ~75 soft attack. it's near 70 way before that. you can get mediums to do more damage per width than that w/o completely sacrificing breakthrough, but you will pay significantly more for it.

in sp ai doesn't have great divisions so you can go cheapo like this and still come up with enough breakthrough to avoid significant (or any) crits.

in mp most lobbies still ban it i think, but you can do light td with improved high vel cannon for joke costs (comparable to line at) and it will hit opposing tanks way harder than line at. can just put that in infantry divs in chokes and it's pretty annoying to deal with considering the cost.

main thing about lights is they are significantly cheaper and you can use '36 version immediately on some nations (efficiency buildup), swapping guns for basically no efficiency hit means you get a lot of them. thus they can be seen as a middle ground between concentrating stats more thoroughly (medium tanks) or just spreading production out as much as possible (infantry with support arty and hundreds of divs). in practice it's pretty easy to make light tank divs that at least pen ai tank divs and blast through opposing infantry. i think using them in mp would be considerably harder due to house rules, though maybe if european wars in '38 or earlier were allowed you'd see them as line battalions since there wouldn't be much time to build up efficiency on mediums.

maybe the closest compromise is to just put a few factories on light spg immediately and then make mediums for the "breakthrough" stat, saving some production cost on the soft damage you want while still not taking crits, since those 1000+ base breakthrough divs are completely overkill for sp breakthrough.
 
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If you micro there is absolutely a purpose for light tanks. You can zip around and create huge encirclements before the AI can respond. Also pretty easy to get overruns if your light tank divisions are strong enough to break the enemy. If I'm playing a major I usually keep some light armored units for those purposes as well as snaking as needed.

If you are battle planning? Mediums are better.
 
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I'm inclined to agree.

I don't mind light tanks being outscaled in the lategame but they get outscaled almost instantly. Even in the early game, a light tank is not the best option due to the lower hardness, breakthrough and the 60 units/battalion eating at their cost effectivness.

Meanwhile mediums start better and scale amazingly with Improved Medium Cannon and Improved Hi Velocity Cannon.

I always thought that Light Tanks should be 50/battalion, and maybe have access to a slightly better gun so they can still hold their own in the mid game (advanced small cannon anyone? )
 
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I raised this very question some time ago and back then, I didn't realize how bad the issue is. Long story short: there is (almost) no point at all in researching, developing, and building light tanks. The entire point of having tanks is to get firepower, armor, and breakthrough, if a tank fails to provide any of those then it is useless, same for not being able to do it efficiently. The entire issue can be summarized in two points: the entity quantity of a battalion and the turret. The quantity is self-explanatory: less == better, the less you need of tanks to get the stats you need the cheaper a battalion is (it becomes possible to make a more expensive tank for less IC per battalion). The turret is also quite obvious to anyone who played with the tank designer: medium turrets are just the best and most efficient of all both for providing firepower and breakthrough. Everything boils down to "why even bother with light tanks to begin with and not to just build mediums (or heavies)".

Light tanks are useless for 1 simple reason: a light tank battalion is 60 tanks, a medium tank battalion is 50. A medium currently will always better than an equivalent light tank, because even cost-wise, a light tank is on par at best (unless you cut the design down to machine guns).

Let's review some possible good use cases for light tanks, that are light SPA. light flame tank, and armored recon. Light SPA on wheels with the medium turret is very cost-efficient soft attack value but you waste army exp to develop it also sacrificing all the other stats.

SPG/SP ART is useless because of using 3 width instead of 2 width. It's exponentially better to simply make a medium tank with a howitzer instead of an SPG.

A light flame tank is reasonable to a degree but a medium one will give better bonuses and stats. And the most controversial one for me: the recon tank. Some plausible division templates make recon tank invaluable, just so good for its price, I had entire campaigns heavily utilizing recon tanks in the early game but... it works only against the AI, motor (or armored car with the DLC) recon is better at reckoning and if a division needs to get boosted there is flame tank ready and able in the early middle game and in the rare case a division really needs those stats there is a heavy flame tank for that, heavy flame tank will give way more stats for almost 1.5-2 time lesser price even than the most advanced recon tank, light recon is outclassed (also its bonus isn't fit to boost infantry but tank destroyers specifically while flamers do boost infantry).

Recon tanks are just a way for you to use your old light tanks from the stockpile. Or if you design them specifically, to get the armor bonus, but that's usually considered a space marine.

But what that about getting some cheap tanks in the early game? Wouldn't light tanks excel? Actually, let's check it out. Let's take literally the best-case scenario for our light tanks: 1938 light tank chassis, three-man turret and light gun, let's do the same for the medium but taking the most basic chassis with the same preset but a medium turret instead and suspension + engines to get to 6.4 km/h as a baseline speed. Light tank battalion costs 4.08*60=244,8 and gives 15 soft attack, 18 breakthrough and 20 armor, meanwhile, medium tank battalion costs 6.88*50=344 but gives 15 soft attack, 29.9 breakthough and 20 armor. Am I telling that despite being tech ahead medium tanks are (almost) better? Yes, I am because this is the best-case scenario for light tanks, the more complex the medium tank becomes (more modules, armor, speed) the more cost-efficient it becomes because of the quantity factor. Things like reliability and speed in this case barely matter because 1940 medium chassis is overwhelmingly better at everything, not investing into light tanks in the first place preserves precious xp and research time thus little advantages like reliability barely matter in this case (though I am willing to concede some points on speed even still there are ways to make mediums quick enough to overrun infantry).

Light tanks historically were created because AT artillery was not present and field artillery was not numerous enough. They were machine gun nest killers.

They played a huge role: though indirect. They forced all armies to adopt light AT guns and AT rifles, that drained the military budget. I would estimate roughly 30% of 1940 German division's armament budget would be allocated to AT guns: imagine the cost of every single one of your infantry divisions increasing by 30%?

That's why some people in HOI4 MP prefer to ban Space Marine (Infantry + Tanks) : as that would force them to arm infantry with AT and reduce the resources they can put on tanks and aircraft.

In real-life though, the only reason why everybody built light tanks was because they could not afford medium tanks before the war starts in sufficient numbers. Nobody would give the budgets you want for that, so you had a choice: either you choose a lot of light tanks or very few medium tanks or a tiny amount of heavy tanks. In HOI4, you can mobilize your industry years before the war starts, so it's not as much of a concern.

In modern history, light tanks still exist: only now they are called Infantry-Fighting Vehicles, such as the "Bradley Fighting Vehicle" or Soviet BMP series. Wherever a modern tank is too expensive to deploy, you use an IFV.

Is there a way to make light tanks great? Yes, and paradox already made some improvements (light tanks were awful earlier) and I am quite content with the way the things are right now because it is somewhat historical. So does it mean that a player is supposed to make the historically right decision and abandon the light tank concept as early as possible, dear forum dwellers?

There is.

1. Light tanks should cost about 30-50% of medium tanks, as they did historically. That's why for example the French chose to build light R-35/H-35: compared to the medium S-35 they were 3 times cheaper.

2. Medium tanks should have their production cost increased by about 400%.

3. SPGs need their combat width reduced to 2 from 3.

Light tanks should be a great option when you're fighting on a vast frontline with subpar enemies. On the Western Front: the frontlines are too dense so they wouldn't do well. In China or USSR: they would, because there you have a lot more options where to attack. They're basically a cheaper medium tank trading cost for combat ability.
 
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I'm inclined to agree.

I don't mind light tanks being outscaled in the lategame but they get outscaled almost instantly. Even in the early game, a light tank is not the best option due to the lower hardness, breakthrough and the 60 units/battalion eating at their cost effectivness.

Meanwhile mediums start better and scale amazingly with Improved Medium Cannon and Improved Hi Velocity Cannon.

I always thought that Light Tanks should be 50/battalion, and maybe have access to a slightly better gun so they can still hold their own in the mid game (advanced small cannon anyone? )
I basically was going to propose something like that but there should be a better way. The entire point of having 60 tanks per battalion is to make it unscalable so maybe some light tank modules should become cheaper to make the light tank baseline even lower and thus be able to compete with mediums for a very basic tank design doing its job of cheap fire support.
That's why some people in HOI4 MP prefer to ban Space Marine (Infantry + Tanks) : as that would force them to arm infantry with AT and reduce the resources they can put on tanks and aircraft.

Never understood this. Space marines are strong against the AI because it is not going to adopt AT early. But for a human player getting AA and AT are dirt cheap, especially AA is useful by itself and forces to get over 15 armor. It costs 1.5-2 battalions of infantry worth of IC.
 
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In Burma, light tanks were used highly effectively by the British 14th Army. They were better for the terrain being smaller were much more useful in that environment.
They were used as infantry support to blow up bunker defences and the infantry moved in to clear them.
They were also used as support in medium range hooks to go around incoming enemy forces and help form a strong 'roadblock' behind them forcing them to either fall back to clear the roadblock or be annihilated, which was the usual result anyway by that stage of the war.
So, historically they weren't quite the obsolete machines that they perhaps became in the European theatre, maybe it's a question of terrain.
 
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That's why some people in HOI4 MP prefer to ban Space Marine (Infantry + Tanks) : as that would force them to arm infantry with AT and reduce the resources they can put on tanks and aircraft.

Piercing space marines is relatively trivial, and a single armor meme in an infantry div is not usually cost effective. MP infantry is almost always equipped with the latest AT tech anyway.

The last time we ended up testing Space Marines being allowed we decided against it because Mass Mob + Infantry mixed with Tanks makes fronts far too static. Infantry tanks become superior due to Mass Assault doctrine reducing combat width, making them incredibly cheap and effective, but also slow and terrible at pushing. The meta doesn't really change, it just becomes infantry tanks with absurd HP and defence but bad attack and breakthrough anaemically flailing at one another while rolling Guerrilla Tactics constantly.
 
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The last time we ended up testing Space Marines being allowed we decided against it because Mass Mob + Infantry mixed with Tanks makes fronts far too static. Infantry tanks become superior due to Mass Assault doctrine reducing combat width, making them incredibly cheap and effective, but also slow and terrible at pushing. The meta doesn't really change, it just becomes infantry tanks with absurd HP and defence but bad attack and breakthrough anaemically flailing at one another while rolling Guerrilla Tactics constantly.
Wouldn't it be easily countered by creating proper tank pushing divisions with very hight soft attack/width ratio? Being unable to push sounds like a death sentence to this build
 
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it's a shame they are too expensive but you start with full production efficiency with Germany and you could take advantage of that. Also they only use steel so you don't have to import tungsten. They are usable but not really worth it in the long run.
 
I raised this very question some time ago and back then, I didn't realize how bad the issue is. Long story short: there is (almost) no point at all in researching... light tanks.
I level up my tank MIO this way (because I can).

So does it mean that a player is supposed to make the historically right decision and abandon the light tank concept as early as possible, dear forum dwellers?
AMX 13 was a thing that emerged post-war. It originally featured a shortened 75mm gun of the Panther and was intented for specific French demands in what you'd call low-supply areas. The very concept of cramming supreme firepower into ultra-light chassis has been there ever since. E.g. Begleitpanzer 57 or Sprut-SD to name a few. I think there should be a niche for them.

Arguably, Army Group A in late 1942 - early 1943 was [relatively] successful (i.e. at least it withdrew in order) in part because of these reasons too. HoI4 is probably too liberal on mediums in terms of terrain penalties compared to lights, and fuel usage is surely off.
 
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Wouldn't it be easily countered by creating proper tank pushing divisions with very hight soft attack/width ratio? Being unable to push sounds like a death sentence to this build

They have 50% hardness so howitzer doesnt work.

You can still push its just very slow and boring due to the slow speed and constant guerrilla tactics
 
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Light tanks are useless for 1 simple reason: a light tank battalion is 60 tanks, a medium tank battalion is 50. A medium currently will always better than an equivalent light tank, because even cost-wise, a light tank is on par at best (unless you cut the design down to machine guns).
even at quantity premium, combination of wheel suspension + lower base chassis cost means that lights will be significantly cheaper than mediums and building efficiency sooner. they are not actually on par cost-wise, that's not the problem with using light tanks.

the problem is that you get what you're paying for :p

SPG/SP ART is useless because of using 3 width instead of 2 width. It's exponentially better to simply make a medium tank with a howitzer instead of an SPG.
as i pointed out earlier spg eventually gets competitive soft damage per width to tank role mediums and at less than half the cost. however, doing this sacrifices breakthrough almost entirely, and breakthrough is usually an important component of tank divisions for obvious reasons. the 3 width isn't the problem though. if you could have a light spg using 3 width and giving 20-30 breakthrough, it would be a very legit anti-infantry battalion. but it doesn't, it has ~0 breakthrough, significantly less than line artillery (which doesn't make sense to me).

Recon tanks are just a way for you to use your old light tanks from the stockpile. Or if you design them specifically, to get the armor bonus, but that's usually considered a space marine.
this is main use case since its presence boosts the stats of better tanks and it requires a light chassis. since you don't need tons, you might as well make them good as they can be.

That's why some people in HOI4 MP prefer to ban Space Marine (Infantry + Tanks) : as that would force them to arm infantry with AT and reduce the resources they can put on tanks and aircraft.
interestingly it's pretty hard to get light tanks sufficient armor to beat infantry kit tech upgrades + support aa, in contrast to other tank models. however, spreading that many resources into high armor tank battalion per div is also an enormous cost to the side doing "space marines". chasing armor bonus isn't cheap.

my impression from experienced mp players is that space marines aren't a problem vs infantry, but rather that it makes "roaching" strategies against tanks more (too?) effective since the infantry divs start doing much more legit damage against tanks. i wonder what it would take to break through td mass assault infantry in egypt for example. rather than chasing armor, they could just make light td on a few factories (like literally 2-3) and easily have 20+ battalions of that inside roach infantry divs at start of war, some of them with improved high vel cannons.

i don't play competitive mp myself though, i might be mistaken. but i would be surprised if space marines chasing armor were a common play even if allowed in skilled lobbies, while someone doing light td roaching wouldn't surprise me at all.

Wouldn't it be easily countered by creating proper tank pushing divisions with very hight soft attack/width ratio? Being unable to push sounds like a death sentence to this build
yes, this is the counter. it is very hard to roach vs this if attacker has supply. speaking of which, log striking away supply resources would limit division count available for roaching w/o penalty, so it's another workaround if someone goes too hard on it. and of course the recently added paradrop nonsense where you can sit on paradrop order then activate it when target province org isn't so good lol.

They have 50% hardness so howitzer doesnt work.
you would need way more than 1 tank battalion to get 50% hardness, these are starting to sound closer to a regular tank battalion, specifically built for at.

even if they get this much, improved medium cannon is 32 soft 20 hard (52 total), while improved medium howitzer is 45 soft 2 hard (47 total), so you're not that far behind at 50% hardness. but you'd need a lot of tanks to get that much hardness everywhere.

There is a high velocity gun with 26 hard attack and 10 soft attack or so. It is easy to stack armor and attack to almost insta route any tile if needed
how much armor are you actually getting on divs? even light td can easily get well over 100 piercing in divisions with serviceable hard attacks. i would imagine "space marines" with enough of that would either fully pen or mostly pen realistic armor values and dish hundreds of hard attacks. since roaching stalls out these battles i suspect that's pretty costly. maybe enough where you just get enough breakthrough/damage and don't chase armor so it's less expensive to push them.
 
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They arent useless but they have a very small timeframe where they are useful in europe.

Outside of europe they are useful the entire timeline but if you are going to do ground warfare in europe you should replace all your light tanks with mediums before 1940.
 
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Against AI u can win historical barbarrosa, with just 20 to 40 divisions of 20w light tanks templates as main tank force. the majors AI only will build relevant AT capabalities from 42 with access to tier 3 rifles and start utilizing AT-gun brigades.

Also you can truly blitzkrieg western campaing in historical dates from 39~40 with light tanks.
 
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Piercing space marines is relatively trivial, and a single armor meme in an infantry div is not usually cost effective. MP infantry is almost always equipped with the latest AT tech anyway.

The last time we ended up testing Space Marines being allowed we decided against it because Mass Mob + Infantry mixed with Tanks makes fronts far too static. Infantry tanks become superior due to Mass Assault doctrine reducing combat width, making them incredibly cheap and effective, but also slow and terrible at pushing. The meta doesn't really change, it just becomes infantry tanks with absurd HP and defence but bad attack and breakthrough anaemically flailing at one another while rolling Guerrilla Tactics constantly.
Well it seems like the issue is guerilla tactics.

Guerilla tactics makes almost anything fly, which is why that's the one thing that should be banned or revised in the base game.
 
even at quantity premium, combination of wheel suspension + lower base chassis cost means that lights will be significantly cheaper than mediums and building efficiency sooner. they are not actually on par cost-wise, that's not the problem with using light tanks.

the problem is that you get what you're paying for :p

60/50 = 120%. So your light tanks with equal stats are 20% more costly.

Wheeled suspension gives -10% cost. You still have a light tank cost 10% more than an equivalent armed medium.

Also wheeled suspension reduces hardness, which increases the losses you get typically when facing infantry.


as i pointed out earlier spg eventually gets competitive soft damage per width to tank role mediums and at less than half the cost. however, doing this sacrifices breakthrough almost entirely, and breakthrough is usually an important component of tank divisions for obvious reasons. the 3 width isn't the problem though. if you could have a light spg using 3 width and giving 20-30 breakthrough, it would be a very legit anti-infantry battalion. but it doesn't, it has ~0 breakthrough, significantly less than line artillery (which doesn't make sense to me).

The breakthrough is less of the issue compared to your attack being basically divided by 1.5 because of higher width.

interestingly it's pretty hard to get light tanks sufficient armor to beat infantry kit tech upgrades + support aa, in contrast to other tank models. however, spreading that many resources into high armor tank battalion per div is also an enormous cost to the side doing "space marines". chasing armor bonus isn't cheap.

Long-term, it won't work. But Infantry equipment 1 + support AA gets countered by 1 recon tank with 44 armor.

my impression from experienced mp players is that space marines aren't a problem vs infantry, but rather that it makes "roaching" strategies against tanks more (too?) effective since the infantry divs start doing much more legit damage against tanks. i wonder what it would take to break through td mass assault infantry in egypt for example. rather than chasing armor, they could just make light td on a few factories (like literally 2-3) and easily have 20+ battalions of that inside roach infantry divs at start of war, some of them with improved high vel cannons.

i don't play competitive mp myself though, i might be mistaken. but i would be surprised if space marines chasing armor were a common play even if allowed in skilled lobbies, while someone doing light td roaching wouldn't surprise me at all.

Well as @Alexander 'The Grape' mentioned, yes, there is an issue, mostly from the fact that Guerilla Warfare is so powerful.

But even then, TDs are not what will change things significantly, with Guerilla warfare even infantry + AT is pretty powerful.
 
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how much armor are you actually getting on divs? even light td can easily get well over 100 piercing in divisions with serviceable hard attacks. i would imagine "space marines" with enough of that would either fully pen or mostly pen realistic armor values and dish hundreds of hard attacks. since roaching stalls out these battles i suspect that's pretty costly. maybe enough where you just get enough breakthrough/damage and don't chase armor so it's less expensive to push them.
Against EaW's modded AI that always gets AA and then gets AT so I must get at least 16 to not get pierced and over the course of the game something like 100-150, in the late game EaW it is possible to get 300 armor with super heavies piercing but piercing also gets insane so it is unreasonable to get ahead of the AT anymore
 
The biggest issue with light tanks is that they are introduced to the game as a separate category from the very beginning. The first generations of light tanks are actually just tanks and the biggest issue is upgrading from light to medium tanks is seen as a division redesign. This is most clear in the German armed forces where pz I and pz II aren't there because they wanted a light tank, they are there as the main body of the panzer divisions. The game, by making them a different category, forces them to be treated as something they are not. It would be nice if the divisions structure didn't work like this. I can say the same for the Soviets. The main tank sequence for the Soviet Union is T24-BT5-BT7-T34 and that isn't a switch from light to medium tanks it is just development progression of tanks.

Next point, as others have said, the vehicle count is somewhat unfair to light tanks as the weapons you stick on them are effectively more expensive than the same weapon on a medium tank without providing more firepower. The simply truth is 60 light tanks with a support gun is in the real world more more firepower than 50 medium tanks with support gun and the game should either reflect this or shift the vehicle counts.

Some of the discussion in this thread is effectively talking about force concentration (especially all the comments against SPG). Under some circumstances there is plenty of frontage and you can ignore the concentration issue and focus on the cost for capability issue. It is only on this cost per capability that light tanks are ever going to have combat merit (speed is a different issue) and they can offer more cost effective firepower.

One issue not mentioned is that for some countries there is significant merit in resource economy. Every resource that you have to buy for building stuff is effectively a 12.5% increase in cost (treating civ factories as the same value as mils). This can be significant because this motivates the use of light weapons to avoid tungsten and using light tanks will also reduce steel usage (if that's an issue). This can result in a significant cost differential for countries that have to buy certain resources.

Ultimately there is significant merit in a number of light tank designs that are simply intended to provide cost effective mobile firepower for theatres which are not stacked up to the limit. Not only that but perfectly good vehicles in this category can be built from very early on and hence be at full production efficiently long before any medium tank replacement.

Light tanks have their place in the game and unfortunately it is in their real world large production role of simply being tanks rather than light tanks from earlier in the general tank development process. The simple fact is that by 1941 light tanks as the main tank fleet were fully obsolete and everyone wants medium tanks. From that point light tanks were relegated to actual light tank roles which were effectively as armoured cars with better cross country mobility. This is reflected in the game which seems to me to be quite reasonable. If only there was a smoother and less micro process for transitioning to medium tanks (especially since the AI seems incapable of managing this).
 
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