Since it's inception, Covenant maintained a pervasive military force which it used to carry out the Hierarchs' will throughout the Covenant's vast empire. Rather than being a singular organization, the Covenant's military forces were a collection of organizations under the oversight of various political bodies, which in turn carried out the edicts of the High Council. The Sangheili originally served as the leadership caste for the Covenant's various armed forces, until they were replaced by the Jiralhanae during the Great Schism. The Covenant military fell alongside its empire at the Battle of the Citadel.
The deceased Covenant's various newly formed remnant factions have scavenged assets of the fallen military to utilize, as well as recruitment of its former soldiers.
In the early centuries of the Covenant, the Writ of Union established the armed forces of the Sangheili as the hegemony's sole military force, with the San'Shyuum having little part in its day-to-day operation. The military's original purpose was to allow the Covenant to establish dominance in the Milky Way by force, but its primary goal was to acquire Forerunner technology and to bring forth the Great Journey. The fact that the Covenant military, the empire's largest and most powerful entity, was completely under the control of Sangheili led to some San'Shyuum distrusting the species. One of the Covenant military's earliest engagements was during the Rending, an insurrection led by Ussa 'Xellus which was seemingly quelled by Mken 'Scre'ah'ben and his Ministry of Relic Safety. As the Covenant conquered and assimilated various species for its cause, members of each race were incorporated into the Covenant military to perform different roles, adding their own unique advantages and disadvantages. The Unggoy Rebellion in 2462 ushered in a major restructuring of the military: because they had proven themselves in combat in the eyes of the Sangheili, the Unggoy were allowed into formerly Sangheili-only units and were given better weaponry, giving rise to the Unggoy as a proper infantry class.
During the Great Schism, the Covenant military was violently torn between those who continued to follow the High Prophets, and the Sangheili who had been cast out of the Covenant along with those loyal to them. As the battle raged, the High Prophet of Truth formally transferred command of the military to the Jiralhanae, a position once exclusively held by the Sangheili. Following the Schism, the Flood outbreak on High Charity and the eventual destruction of the remaining Covenant leadership in the Battle of Installation 00, the Covenant military ceased to exist as a functioning force due to the absence of a structured Covenant government.
A number of splinter factions formed in the wake of the Covenant's destruction. Members of the former Covenant who followed Arbiter Thel 'Vadam banded together to form the Swords of Sanghelios. However, several other groups took up arms against the Swords, including the Servants of the Abiding Truth and later a new Covenant led by Jul 'Mdama. These groups have marshaled significant amounts of the Covenant's former matériel and troops while maintaining the practices and traditions of the former Covenant's military forces to varying degrees.
The Covenant did not posses a single standing military force like that of the UNSC. Rather, it possessed a number of martial organisations under the control of one or more governmental ministries, each competing with one another in bloody internal wars for prestige and promotion of their orthodoxy. The power of these ministries waxed and waned over the years, though only three of any significance to humanity during the war.
Politically, most of the military fell under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Resolution,. The Ministry of Resolution originally started as one dedicated to anti-piracy operations, but soon grew in scope and power at the start of the war with humanity, as its postings that regularly involved extended periods of removal from Covenant society gave perfect cover to send Covenant fleets beyond the borders to fight humanity, while hiding the losses of troops to stall inconvenient questions by the Sangheili military leaders.
Some ministries, however, maintained much more specialised military forces with different objectives, such as the Ministry of Fervent Intercession in the Zealots' case. The Ministry of Fervent Intercession was primarily tasked with discovery and control of Forerunner sites, and would be able to call upon resources and volunters directly from the colonies and even other ministries. Their fanaticism made them useful during the war, though they would pay little heed to orders not directly concerned with the safety of Forerunner artifacts.
The Ministry of Tranquility was granted military assets to aid in the ministry's function: the acquisition of Forerunner relics. However, ships of the Ministry of Tranquility rarely participated in fleet action. The Ministry of Preservation had some oversight in the military, as the ministry was tasked with quelling internal rebellions and uprisings. The Ministry of Abnegation likely had some authority in the military, as the ministry absorbed the Ascetics' guard. Like the rest of the Covenant, the Covenant military was under the ultimate jurisdiction of the High Council, formerly composed of Sangheili High Councilors who oversaw the operation of the military.
The Council of Deed and Doctrine was a command organization within the Covenant military and aided the Hierarchs with military tactics and strategy. During major conflicts, the Council of Deed and Doctrine created a Council of Masters to directly oversee operations. The San'Shyuum and Sangheili members of the Council of Masters sent Sangheili soldiers into battle and dictated war needs. Because San'Shyuum did not hold military ranks, no San'Shyuum was truly a "member" of the military. Instead, they were responsible for strategic decision-making, but also traveled with Covenant military units as religious or political overseers.
The Covenant military was heavily naval-oriented, with fleets ranging from small battle groups to entire armadas serving as the basic unit of organization. These fleets appeared to be under the direct authority of a given ministry, and there was seemingly no meaningful distinction between service branches, such as the human notions of a dedicated "navy" and "army"; for example, field officers, including Sangheili Generals, could command ground operations as well as starships, while Sangheili pilots would often see their starfighters as tools to acclaim enough personal glory to be permitted to join those chosen warriors on the ground. Individual fleets operated a number of task-based groups, including the ground-oriented Occupational Forces and the Special Warfare Group, which contained the Special Operations Division.
Although the naval arm was the backbone of the Covenant, fleets would be called upon to conduct trade and transport missions as often as they would be called upon to to convert and ensure compliance. As such, the Covenant maintained very few dedicated warship classes, named "Executors", with those that did exist - such as the CPV-class heavy destroyer - considered distasteful reminders that the Great Journey could not be attained without bloodshed. As such, the Covenant had few dedicated warships on hand at the outbreak of war with humanity, and had to recall ships from the outer reaches of the empire to serve, though these vessels and their crews would gain little honour for their work. The crews assigned to these ships were often those who were deemed unfit for service in regular ministry fleets, with reputations damaged by disloyalty or disobedience.
Despite the power of the Covenant ministries, extraordinarily powerful warships such as the ORS-class heavy cruiser required hierarchical approval for construction, crew and deployment, and as such these extremely powerful warships were only commissioned in times of need. Vessels such as these were classed as "Examiners", and their crews were often hand-picked to serve alongside the accumulated ancient honour the ship's previous deeds.
The Covenant's military leaders, however, class any ship not dedicated enough to be deserving of a shipmaster's chair as an attack ship - an ambiguous role rarely considered in the plans of a supreme commander. Attack ships like the CRS-class light cruiser would often be assigned to escort duties for executors, examiners, and convoys of pilgrims passing to and from High Charity, though would complete their mission without fervor and could not be counted upon for more than the most basic tasks. However, these crews would make almost any sacrifice necessary to serve on the crew of the main ship when escorting "Examiner"-type vessels. As such, these vessels were typically staffed by Jirlahanae and Kig-Yar, who were less concerned with the acquisition of honour and glory. Attack ships would also serve in roles analagous to a UEG police cutter, patrolling systems to conduct inspections and enforce travel laws. Some ships were also tasked with chartering dangerous routes through slipspace and fighting civilisations who resisted the prophets, though such matters were considered beneath the attention of true warriors. Smaller deployment craft such as the Lich would also be utilised in civilian and security roles alongside their military applications.
The Covenant military was organized based on the Covenant's caste system. The officer corps was primarily staffed by Sangheili, though the Great Schism saw the Sangheili removed from this position and largely replaced with the Jiralhanae. while the Unggoy and Kig-Yar generally filled menial or infantry roles. Ranks were denoted by the color, type of armor and accessories worn for Sangheili, Jiralhanae and Unggoy; different ranks of Kig-Yar would also be distinguished by the color of their shield gauntlets.
The smallest organizational unit of the Covenant military was file, typically consisting of cannon fodder Unggoy. A lance was a small unit of Unggoy commanded by a low-ranked Sangheili (later Jiralhanae), a rough equivalent to a UNSC fireteam. Jiralhanae were also organized into the tribal packs traditional of their society. Large numbers of these units comprised legions, which were organized into task-based groups within their respective naval fleets.
Despite the diversity of their weapons and forces, Covenant troops are heavily segregated. Unggoy are deployed as cannon fodder, Kig-Yar are used as support and snipers, and Sangheili are commanders and fight in warrior lances. Weapons and technology are restricted by species and rank; only Sangheili receive personal energy shields and energy swords, only Kig-Yar receive point defense gauntlets, and Unggoy only receive basic weapons and armor, depending by rank.
The reasons for these restrictions are often cultural; for instance, Sangheili view wielding shield gauntlets as dishonorable and that "lesser species" do not deserve their privileged weapons. The Covenant's interspecies politics also played a large part in this segregation: while Sangheili-led mixed units existed, the Sangheili and the Jiralhanae often maintained their own individual command hierarchies largely segregated from one another to prevent conflict and authority issues from arising between the two. It was originally rare for the Jiralhanae to receive their own ships to begin with, and the ones given to them by the Sangheili were smaller and less powerful such as the lowly attack ship classifications, while the Sangheili maintained the bulk of the Covenant's fleet. When the Jiralhanae were made the Covenant's main military caste, their indigenous weaponry and vehicles—equally brutal in design and function—became a staple on the battlefield alongside the Covenant's more refined technologies.
At the start of the Human-Covenant War, units of Kig-Yar would often be mixed-species units of Ruuhtian and T'vaoan Kig-Yar, though after 2530 this was seemingly replaced with the various sub-species being divided into segregated units. The Ruuhtians would be employed in scout-sniper roles, while the T'vaoans would be employed more in shock troop roles.
This discrimination among the Covenant military is centuries old, but the dynamic is occasionally changed by violent rebellion. The Unggoy Rebellion caused Elites to mix their units with Grunts and give them better training. Likewise, the Great Schism put Jiralhanae in command of former Sangheili units, gave them personal shielded armor, and made Jiralhanae packs a prevalent unit within the military in addition to the mixed-species lance.
The Type-25 plasma pistol was generally issued to the smaller species, such as the Unggoy, Kig-Yar and Yanme'e, although Sangheili and Jiralhanae occasionally used them as sidearms. Type-33 needlers were issued to many of the species within the Covenant military; it was most commonly used by Unggoy and Yanme'e, although Kig-Yar, Sangheili and Jiralhanae sometimes used them. The Type-25 plasma rifle was the primary weapon of the Covenant's officer corps. Generally wielded by Sangheili, the plasma rifle was infrequently used by higher ranks of the lower caste species. Type-51 plasma repeaters were also used by many Sangheili, as well as Jiralhanae shock troops. Mgalekgolo troops used assault cannons built directly into their armor.
Marksmen within the Covenant military were most often issued Type-51 carbines, although Type-31 needle rifles also saw some use. Higher ranking Sangheili in the military were often equipped with explosive weaponry such as Type-50 concussion rifles and Type-52 plasma launchers. The Type-33 fuel rod gun was employed as an anti-armor weapon, although it also saw use against infantry. Covenant snipers were normally equipped with Type-27 beam rifles and later, Type-50 particle beam rifles. Many opted to use Type-52 focus rifles for ranged suppression. The standard grenade of the Covenant military was the Type-1 plasma grenade.
The Covenant military fielded a wide array of melee-based weaponry. In contrast to UNSC soldiers, who generally used melee weapons as a last resort, the Covenant used melee weapons far more readily. The Sangheili and Jiralhanae in particular preferred to get in close to enemies, using their superior physical strength and impressive melee armaments to their advantage. The Type-1 energy sword was commonly seen in the hands of higher-ranking Sangheili. Jiralhanae often employed their Type-2 gravity hammers for close quarters combat. In addition, soldiers of the Covenant also used energy-based cutlasses, lances and garrotes.
The Covenant military also employed a vast range of stationary plasma cannons. The Type-42 plasma cannon was used for suppression fire for much of the Human-Covenant War, before being phased out in favor of the Type-52 plasma cannon which performed in much the same way. The Shade stationary guns were used for static defence and heavy suppression. The Type-26 Shade was the most commonly used model, although the Type-27 and Type-29 variant also saw prodigious use.
The Jiralhanae also had their own array of fearsome weaponry. These became far more frequently used once the Jiralhanae were made the leading members of the Covenant military. The Type-25 Spiker was the standard weapon of the lower ranking Jiralhanae, along with their own version of the Type-25 plasma rifle. Higher ranked Jiralhanae were most often equipped with Type-25 Brute Shots. Type-52 Maulers were often used by Jiralhanae stealth operatives. The Jiralhanae also fielded their own types of grenades - the Type-2 spike grenades and Type-3 firebomb saw widespread usage towards the end of the Human-Covenant War. Jiralhanae officers sometimes carried their own combat knives.
The Covenant military also boasted an impressive number of vehicles. Type-32 Ghosts were used for reconnaissance and rapid attack roles. The Type-26 Wraith was the standard tank - used as the standard armored ground vehicle, it was very effective in anti-armor and anti-infanty roles. The Covenant military used the Type-52 Anti-Aircraft Wraith against hostile aircraft. The Type-48 Revenant was used as mobile artillery support for infantry, while the Type-46 Spectre was used more for mobile suppression fire and troop transportation. Infrequently used, the Type-29 Shadow provided troop and light vehicle transportation in areas inaccessible to dropships. Jiralhanae vehicles included the Type-25 Chopper and the Type-52 Prowler.
A range of excavation platforms were repurposed by the Covenant military during the war against humanity. The Type-30 Locust and the far larger Scarab platforms were used in combative roles against enemies of the Covenant. Many varieties of the Scarab were employed, with the most common being the Type-47B Scarab. The larger Protos model of the T-47 was used less frequently than the more combat-ready Deutoros model.
Type-26 Banshees were used as standard ground support aircraft while Type-25 Spirits, Type-44 Phantoms and Type-52 Phantoms were used as troop dropships. Rarely seen by human combatants, the Type-56 Lich saw use as the heaviest of airborne deployment platforms. An anti-aircraft fighter, the Type-29 Vampire was seldom used by the military.
The military also used many different types of drop pods to rapidly deploy infantry units to any battlefield from an orbital ship. Variants that carried individual troops were most often seen, although some types of drop pod allowed for the transportation of multiple Covenant soldiers.
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