The remote centralised government of the Imperium is possessed of great industrial and technological might. However, it is unable, due to the sheer distances and travel times involved, to exert total control everywhere within its star-spanning realm.

Extensive home rule provisions allow planetary governments to choose their own forms of government, raise and maintain their own armed forces for local security, pass and enforce laws governing local conduct, and regulate commerce (within limits). Defence has been a co-operative effort of local indigenous forces, stiffened by scattered Imperial Naval Bases manned by small but extremely sophisticated forces.

Conflicting local interests have often settled their differences by force of arms, with Imperial forces looking quietly the other way, unwilling to intervene en masse. Only when local conflicts have threatened either the security or economy of an area have Imperial forces taken an active hand, and then with overwhelming speed and force. Imperial forces have thus been able to operate as a police force without jeopardising their primary mission of defence of the realm.

The combat environment, then, is one of short, limited wars. Both sides must carefully balance the considerations of how much force is necessary to win a conflict with how much force is likely to trigger Imperial intervention. At the same time, both belligerents will generally be working with relatively small populations, containing only a small number of combat-experienced veterans.

In this environment, the soldier-for-hire has found constant employment. Small, poor states faced with invasion or encroachment need professional soldiers as cadres to drill and lead their citizen militia. Large states are able to hire and equip complete mercenary contingents as strikers or spearhead troops. Small commando units will be in demand to pinpoint and destroy specific targets. Security forces must defend against invaders. The Golden Age of the Mercenary has arrived.

Imperial policy has allowed the marketplace to provide military force to those who can afford it. One line of thought has been that a hired military can be more effectively controlled if it gets out of hand, as opposed to nationalistic or politically motivated military forces.

The Imperium does stand by ready to enforce its own standards, however. Certain basic restrictions against improper scales of force are observed, known as the Imperial Rules of War. Weapons such as poison gas or nuclear devices are scrutinised carefully. If matters get out of hand, then the local Imperial forces stand ready to intervene. The general situation tends to keep the mercenary forces within the Imperium in check.

Most mercenary units are small, with very few being a regiment or larger in size. Some, known as starmercs, supply armed starships along with a combat crew. In general, however, merc units tend to be company-sized or smaller, due to the need to keep transport costs to a minimum. They provide their own basic equipment, but employers must supply any special mission needs. The specifics are laid out in the mercenary ticket ; the contract between the client and the mercenary force.

(BOOK-5, 1107; SUPP-8, 1107; DIGEST-14, 1118; MT-ENCYC, 1120)

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