“The substructure of the universe regresses infinitely towards smaller and smaller components. Behind atoms we find electrons, and behind electrons quarks. Each layer unraveled reveals new secrets, but also new mysteries.”
— Academician Prokhor Zakharov, “For I Have Tasted The Fruit”
Advanced Subatomic Theory is a third-tier pure scientific technology that relies on High Energy Chemistry and Polymorphic Software. In the game, it allows an interesting little set of utility advantages. Namely, it allows the production of the Skunkworks base facility and it allows units to be built with the Comm Jammer upgrade. Neither of these are anywhere near game-breakingly good, but they have their situational uses. This befits a technology that comes with the University’s introductory quote and even says in the name that it’s a theoretical advance, as opposed to a practical one.
But the Comm Jammer is actually worthy of some consideration. In the game, it grants a substantial defensive bonus to units engaged in ground combat against units with more than one movement point. Essentially, this technology allows a faction to build dedicated anti-tank units.
A game designer possessed of less insight than Reynolds, coming to the conclusion that he needed a futuristic anti-tank special ability, would have tied this to some sort of gun or missile technology. And this would have made a lot of sense. After all, the counter to tanks on land has traditionally been some form of crew-served heavy firepower. Consider the fearsome German “88” cannon in World War 2 or the more modern Javelin anti-tank missile for examples of the form.
But Reynolds has taken the lessons of Doctrine: Mobility to heart. What made the German panzers so terrifying in WW2 was not their heavy armor, their large guns, or their speed. In fact, the German tanks were generally mechanically inferior to their rivals. But the piece of equipment they had that their opponents lacked was a radio. Where the Allied tanks would have one radio per platoon, the Germans made sure each tank had a radio. This enabled them to demonstrate coordination beyond the ken of their opponents. So, from the opponents’ perspective, it seemed like the Germans were everywhere at once, finding every weak spot in the line, and driving deep behind the lines to sow chaos and terror.
That means that the true counter to the form of rapid attack made possible by Doctrine: Mobility is not some sort of novel weapon or armor. It’s the seemingly humble wide-spectrum communications jammer. If you can break the radios, the whole fast-moving apparatus collapses under its own weight into a confused mess. One with no other option than to engage in a frontal assault against the obvious strongpoints.
Once you’ve made that connection (which, to be fair, I did not when I was first playing the game in the ’90s), then it becomes clear why Advanced Subatomic Theory is the technology to use to unlock this power. After all, communications technologies and their counters have been tied very closely to cutting-edge physics breakthroughs for the past hundred and fifty years for a very good reason. Extrapolating that trend out into the future is quite reasonable.