After seeing this question, it occurred to me that power armor might not be viable due to cost, unreliability, and a high chance of catastrophic failure, but I feel like there are other considerations.

What are other issues that would make power armor not a viable platform in combat?

Note that this is the same universe in the question: How would a desert civilization develop their battlesuits and powered armors efficiently?

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    $\begingroup$ I think you listed them in your question already. What is your problem then? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jul 9, 2020 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ I am confused. What is in your opinion the fundamental difference between a tank and "powered armor"? Because I would have thought that a tank is powered armor, and tanks are universally considered pretty useful by the militaries of the world. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jul 9, 2020 at 6:27

7 Answers 7


Power armor is purpose built for other purposes.

Your power armor is intended for deep sea construction. Or external operations in an asteroid field full of micrometeorites. It offers formidable protection to the wearer against the dangers expected in its operating environment. It has cutters, welders, drills and punches; tools that could in theory be offensive weapons. It has no projectile weaponry. Its fastest mode of movement is an ejection seat burst to move away from an imminent explosion or containment failure.

It is really not the sort of thing that would be helpful in combat. Unless you were out of other options...


Weapons are too good

If a unarmoured soldier or a tiny drone can destroy said power armor with a point and click then power armour is pointless.

This could be armour piercing rounds, EMP weapons, nanites etc.

The whole point of armour is to protect you and there is no point wearing it if it doesn't do its job anymore.


If you can buy 200 tanks for the same cost as a mech and 200 tanks is better, you'd buy the tanks.


Power armour has lots of joints and moving parts. These joints can get dirt in them and jam. Ideally the less moving parts a weapon has, the better.


A tank can be serviced in open field by a mechanic with some basic tools. What is needed for power armour to make repairs?


There is an idiom (I do not remember the soruce): "when diletants talk about war they talk about weapons and taktics, when professionals do - they talk about logistics"

  • How much distance can "mech regiment" cover in a day?. Question here is not about there battle speed, but about how much time is needed to reposition this mechs and all their support, say 100 km to the west? Trough virgin jungles? For most cases tank regiments are much faster, since modern tanks can move quickly through any terrain for long times and can be used as tugs for less mobile vehicles to bring their supplies with them.
  • How long can mech battle and how long it reloads/refuels? How many attacks per day they can perfom? In hard-scince world you can't fire shower of rockets every minute or two from a single rocket launcher. Tanks hold quite decent supply of ammo and can battle for hours and days (for less intensive battles). Planes hold small amount of shorts (2-10 rockets and about 10-20 bursts for gun), but are relativly fast to return to base and resupply and can perfom up to 10-20 attacks per day for close target. While all mech's I saw (even in BattleTech mega-techs) have visualy very limited space to hold battle supplies, and need to go all the way back to base for reloading (or put at risc supply teams). So they take worst from both and may be used only as a shocktroops to perfom 1-2 short attacks or counter attacks.
  • How much tech depends on supportive forces? How critical supply trucks/structures are?. You don't need to destroy enemy tanks to get theam out of battle - you may just destroy their much "softer" fuel depots and convoys and tanks become usless (thats how USSR lost a huge lots of tanks in 1941 to Germans). You don't need to shoot down enemy planes - best anti-air is our tanks on their air-bases (thats how USSR lost a huge lots of planes in 1941 to Germans). But both task are not that easy to accomplish - with enough point defence enenemy can protect their "soft places". But the less, and harder to reach, this places are the smaller "attack surface" is and the more capable tanks and planes are. Techs again take worst from both. Does power armor requiers special transport? Does it requires stable eletricity source? Or may be a special base for maintance? How about hacking? All this are quite "soft" targets that need to be kept close to enemy - a large "surface" to defend!
  • How fast we can replenish the losses? How many we need to have in reserve? Modern battle tanks tend to be quite complex to produce and quite short to live in a battle field, so countries tend to keep 10 times more in reserve than in troops. Those F-22 Raptors may be a perfect plane but they can't be replenished, since production line is closed. So it is almost useless fighting plane from strategic point of view. It can be used only in one-two alpha-strikes in big war wich might not be that deciding. So if you can produce only 10 battle suits in a year - you'd better produce none. Germans showed quite a good example of this during WWII with their wonderwaffer. For example, Me-262 was an ultimate fighter (despite all problems), but it had near zero effect - due to too misarable numbers compared to ally's bomber production.
  • $\begingroup$ In the Battletech example, even though the fluff text discourages it, it is almost always more effective to pull the engine from a mech and put it in a tank. $\endgroup$
    – ShadoCat
    Jul 14, 2020 at 3:51
  • $\begingroup$ Quote is usually attributed to Napoleon. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jul 14, 2020 at 11:50
  • $\begingroup$ "Amateurs talk about tactics. Professionals study logistics." Gen Robert H Barrow. $\endgroup$ Jul 15, 2020 at 11:05

Personal power armor has a lot of electronics. And that provides 2 major drawbacks.
First: It is a beacon for any EM sensors, making the wearer a very visible target.
Second: It is vulnerable to electronic jamming and to EMP weapons.

Power armor, when unpowered, typically is bulky and heavy. Making it difficult to move about when it malfunctions. Worse: If it locks up completely it may effectively act as a cage, because it prevents all movement.

So: You power up the armor. Enemy sensors “see” you. Hit you with an EMP pulse that fries your electronics. Now the enemy knows exactly where you are and you’re a sitting duck.

If you say EM can be shielded.... That shielding is going to add to the bulkiness and weight of the armor. Which means you need more power to operate it, which requires more shielding, etc...


Issues with uniformity

If there's one thing the armor likes, it's uniformity. They want reliable soldiers using tactics that have been proven for years if not decades.

Give a grunt power armor, and he's encouraged to show boat, improvise where he shouldn't and take risks based on ignorance or misunderstandings of its abilities


Cost Cost and Cost

To be viable power armor would have to offer a measurable military advantage over the various forms of 'passive/non-powered armor systems and tracked/wheeled vehicles that might be available concurrently to the government concerned.

As an example I recall reading about a Senior German General with experience serving on the Russian Front during world War 2 who argued strongly against the adoption of the Tiger Tank because by the time this system was available for use Germany was on the defensive and for the cost (financial and resource) of one Tiger Tank something like fifteen plus (have to find the data) artillery or anti-tank guns could be produced.

In other words the cost of the weapon system (production and maintained included) might simply outweigh its utility to a significant degree.


Powered armor runs into the same science that prohibits the reality of "mechs," made popular by scifi. It's simple weight. Once an object reaches a certain size and mass it can no longer be supported on "legs." This is why tanks have treads - to disperse their tremendous weight along a length of wheels rather than on four or on legs. Were you to mount an Abrams for instance, on a pair of legs, those legs would almost immediately sink into the dirt. The same would hold for asphalt or concrete. In fact, most modern tanks will damage asphalt even with treads. So even with assisted mechanism to allow armor to be functional, the mass of the armor would make it impossible to use. How does it get to the battlefield? Aircraft? Too heavy. Vehicle? Too heavy. Self-flight might be an option but once it lands, it's still going to sink to some degree or tear up whatever it's walking on. Lightweight armor is still doable. But large armor like in the current video games like Titan Falls and such are physically impossible without giant mushroomed feet that would make walking all but impossible. This is one reason the creators of Centurion RPG developed the idea of hover tanks. They use anti-gravity engines to remain aloft slightly above the ground but mountainous terrain still remained an obstacle as did blocks and debris.


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