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Elite Army

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Sangheili navigator: Brute ships! Staggered line! Shipmaster, they outnumber us three to one!
Rtas 'Vadum: Then it is an even fight.
Halo 3

On one end of the scale of Conservation of Ninjutsu is the Zerg Rush. On the other end is the Elite Army.

Instead of sending endless waves of disposable mooks at the enemy, this army relies on a relatively small number of very deadly soldiers to win the battle.

They're up against a Redshirt Army that outnumbers them five to one, but the Redshirt Army doesn't stand a chance. Maybe they have superior training. Maybe they have better equipment. Maybe they're all Super Soldiers. Maybe its a combination of the three. The point is, a soldier in this army is worth five of the enemy's and such a statement will usually be made.

This usually means each individual will be much more valuable so No One Gets Left Behind.

In terms of Quantity vs. Quality, the Zerg Rush is Quantity Over Quality, the Elite Army is Quality over Quantity. When it's just one soldier doing all this alone, it's a One-Man Army. Under Faction Calculus, playable forces of this stripe are known as Powerhouse.

When they are the bad guys, they are Elite Mooks.

This is usually a Badass Army, but it specifically refers to when the army is smaller than most other armies but still capable of fighting on equal terms.

Deconstructions usually involve addressing the cost of raising and maintaining the troops, or how having superior soldiers can't always make up for a lack of numbers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • When applied to high school delinquents, one example is "Kitano's Hekikuu Army" in Angel Densetsu. They have only four main fighters but won a fight against a far more numerous enemy force in the last chapter.
  • In Attack on Titan, despite that only the top 10 trainees in each class can join the Military Police, it's the weakest of the three corps because of their almost total lack of experience. The Survey Corps, which is also the least respected by the way, is the most powerful one, since they fight titans all the time. Soldiers who survive their first battle are regarded as real soldiers by Erwin Smith, which means the Military Police is full of "pseudo-soldiers".
  • Berserk:
    • The Golden Age Arc focuses on the Band of the Hawk, the mercenary company that Griffith formed to pursue his dream of winning his own kingdom. Only 5,000 strong, they routinely destroyed much larger forces with few casualties, culminating when they defeated a force of 30,000 supposedly "elite" enemy knights fortified in a castle known for being impregnable. It took capturing their commander unarmed outside of battle, ambushing them without any weapons or armor, wearing them down through attrition over the course of a year, and finally literally dragging them to Hell and Zerg Rushing them with an army of immortal demons to finally bring them down.
    • Despite their growing ranks, the New Band of the Hawk made up of both humans and monsters is a small but disproportionately powerful force on the battlefield. In one instance Griffith saves Mule and a party of refugees by routing 5,000 of the Kushan empire's elite troops with no more than a thousand of his own, and in reality mostly thanks to a vanguard of just a hundred warriors who are ridiculously powerful. He repeats this feat on a larger scale when he repels Emperor Ganishka's grand army outside walls of Vritannis, using several hundred horsemen to defeat a horde that's hundreds of thousands strong.
  • In Black Clover, the Clover Kingdom hosts the Royal Knights Selection Exam to choose the members of the Royal Knights, an elite squad of Magic Knights, specifically to defeat the Eye of the Midnight Sun.
  • Bleach:
    • The Zero Division is the Spirit King's Praetorian Guard. They only appear when the 3,000-strong Gotei 13 has faced an enemy its strength is outmatched against. The Zero Division consists of five individuals who together possess more power and strength than the entire Gotei 13 combined.
    • Yhwach creater the Sternritter with the express purpose of invading Soul Society, and it shows: each of them is strong enough to battle Shinigami Captains and was granted power by Yhwach himself.
      • Out of the Sternritter, 4 of them were appointed by Yhwach to his personal guard, the Schutzstaffel. They are strong enough to give the Zero Division trouble.
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: Deconstructed. It's brought up multiple times that Public Security Section Nine is one of the Japanese government's most elite squads, but in order to maintain that edge it has to have very exacting standards for recruits, which means that it's stuck at less than a dozen members and is consequently very vulnerable to fights against less-elite but more numerous opponents who can win via attrition. And if its recruitment standards are lowered, it loses its elite level of ability.
  • Ikki Tousen: Seitou's combat force. Other forces such as Kyoushou appears to have plenty of Red Shirts sprinkled with a few Elite Mooks but Seitou generally has to rely on Kan'u or Chou'un to repulse any concerted assault.
  • Mobile Suit Gundam: Iron-Blooded Orphans: The Arianrhod Fleet are the most well-armed and fortified formation in Gjallarhorn, capable of mass-producing rare and expensive weaponry like Dainsleifs to give themselves an edge. Put one of the most brilliant and ruthless strategists in charge and you've got a fighting force that's virtually invincible.
  • Vinland Saga: The Jomsvikings, a mercenary band from the Baltic Sea that allows only the strongest fighters in Scandinavia to join their ranks. While still little more than mooks when battling named characters, their bonafides against other armies is demonstrated in the second arc where seventy Jomsvikings take on over three hundred armed civilians and outlaws. The Jomsvikings rout them while one suffering eight casualties (most if not all inflicted on them by a named character who is implied to have once been part of an elite bodyguard unit), and killing more than 120 of their opponents. And that's only counting those dead on the field, not the injured or those who would have died of wounds away from the battlefield.

    Comic Books 
  • 300: The Persian Immortals are supposed to be the best of the best of the Persian emperor, but don't live up to it.

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown of Stars: The Avalon forces deployed on Shinji and Asuka's Earth. They are barely over one hundred men and they are heavily outnumbered to fight the armies of the dictators ruling the post-apocalypse wastelands... but every man and woman is an heavily-trained elite soldier with physical enhancements or even psychic powers, and they are armed with technology way, way superior to their adversaries', up to and including powered armors and Humongous Mecha. The Big Bad not even can use his own war mechs because Shinji and Asuka are the only can pilot them.
  • Because Of The War pits an XCOM squad of 6 against a gang war of 100 gangers. XCOM suffer no injuries. The gangers have no survivors. Even considering that the gangers were, initially, fighting each other, that's 15-to-1 odds.
  • A Dragon's Roar: The Dragon's Teeth are a specially trained unit of Daeron's army.
  • Weaver Nine features the Society, a group of morally-ambiguous castoffs and outcasts united by Weaver. In at least one instance, they successfully drive off Leviathan without a single casualty to their defending force, even if they inflicted nearly as much damage to the city as Leviathan would have to do it. Contrast with the Protectorate, who loses one in four capes in theirs and still let him smash the target in the process.
  • Son of the Seven Kingdoms: It is mentioned several times that the Legions are superior to the levies raised by the feudal system. As they are professionally trained, they prove themselves capable of taking on greater armies and prevailing. Even moreso for the Blades. One Blade can consider a dozen opponents an insult, and in the old days the Blades served as Aegon the Conqueror's personal elite guard after their much smaller force beat back his army and killed one of his dragons.
  • Project Arashi: Fireteam Charlie. Despite numbering one-third less than the non-military portion of the Mage Knights and being confined to a single defense point for the majority of the battle to prevent friendly fire, their weaponry and tactics account for up to seventy percent of the casualties suffered by Chao's droid army. The special forces triad of Cleric, Grammaton, and Tetra teams make up elite armies within the elite army, thirty of Fireteam Charlie's best of the best, authorized to wear the coveted Orbital Drop Shock Trooper armor to showcase their badassery. Though Grammaton and Tetra don't have much screen time in the battle, Cleric Team is responsible for almost single-handedly preserving the allies at the World Tree Plaza.
  • Ripples: It's established that the Changelings were once this to the royal family of Meridian, before they Turned Against Their Masters, at which point they became a persecuted and hunted minority. After Phobos' rise to power, he restores them to this role.
  • XCOM: The Hades Contingency: Deconstructed. XCOM is great at what they do, but every time the squad has had to retreat from a mission, it's because they were getting overwhelmed by superior numbers after failing to make a decisive breakthrough early on.
  • Earth's Alien History has the Asari's Lightning Army. Formed during the Reaper War, its leadership is composed primarily of more progressive officers who break from the stagnant clinging to traditional tactics displayed by other Asari military leaders. This makes them more fluid and unpredictable, and therefore more effective.
  • The Conquest: The Dark Order is smaller than most of the Targaryen Empire's other legions, but is composed of highly skilled warriors trained in hit and run tactics designed to wear down and divide numerically superior foes so that they can be overwhelmed.
  • The Flash Sentry Chronicles: Royal Knights are far superior to the standard Royal Guard. They are the second highest security force in Equestria, with only the princesses above them. At the start of the series only 12 Royal Knights are alive, and only a few apprentices are seen throughout the series. Due to members either retiring or falling in battle the number is now at only 9 members in total, but are no less a force to be reckoned with.

  • The Elite Squad: Deconstructed. BOPE are a Badass Army who can kick the arses of any number of drug dealers, but their low numbers means they're limited to conducting surgical raids and can't hold ground, so any progress is limited. Nascimento's complaint is that the regular police have the numbers to help them hold the favelas, but they're almost all Dirty to a man.
  • In Apocalypse Now, Sociopathic Soldier Colonel Kurtz scoffs at the rabble of conscripts, drug addicts and party animals that America sends to Vietnam and argues that America should downsize the army to ten divisions (200,000 men) of the kind of soldiers who would butcher children without hesitation to send a message and unleash them on Vietnam, winning the war decisively with sheer quality, technological advantage and ruthlessness.
  • Black Hawk Down: Contrasts the casualties during the movie where 18 American soldiers and 1000-2000 Somalis died.
  • In The Last Samurai, the Samurai followers of Katsumoto completely crush an Imperial army of musket-toting conscripts with a cavalry charge. Later on they face the Imperial army again - they have taken a level in badass since, have the warriors outnumbered six-to-one and have artillery. The samurai still kick lots of ass and kill two-thirds of the Imperial army before they are finally brought low by overwhelming More Dakka.

  • In The Arts of Dark and Light, this would apply to Elebrion, and presumably also the other elvish kingdoms. They field small numbers and little or no heavy infantry, but every long-lived elf soldier is trained to an extremely high standard by human reckoning, and they also make heavy use of magic and their air corps as force multipliers.
  • Bolo has the legendary Dinochrome Brigade. Named after the material of a Bolo's armor at the time, the brigade is Earth's favourite response to an alien attack. Basically, after centuries of warfare on Earth, humans eventually perfected A.I. battle tanks. Now humanity has taken to sending aliens they don't like a handful of the latest tanks and their token human officer.
  • The Black Forces of Hungary in Count and Countess.
  • Dreamland in Dale Brown books rely on extremely high tech equipment to make up for their few numbers.
  • The Dinosaur Lords has two:
    • Karyl's White River Legion of hornbow archers and triceratops with fighting castles (uses akin to war elephants) is feared throughout all Nuevaropa, and has been virtually undefeated until Rob's stunt with ankylosauruses.
    • Jaume's Companions are an elite hadrosaurus cavalry unit, and you need to be both skilled and part of The Beautiful Elite to get there.
  • The Dresden Files: Wardens of the White Council of Wizards fall under this trope. Their main job is actually hunting down rogue wizards called warlocks, but they also serve as the Council's soldiers during wartime. There are only around 200 of them in all, but this is considered to be roughly equivalent in strength to the armies of the other supernatural nations, some of which number in the thousands.
  • In the later books of the Ender's Shadow series, Bean commands a special unit of 200 Thai soldiers, who execute a number of critical missions, then commands the small army of the newly-created Free People of Earth under the Hegemon.
  • In J. R. R. Tolkien's legendarium, the good guys are this. Whereas the orcs rarely employ tactics more complicated than a basic pincer movement, the Free Peoples are typically led by a brilliant and badass general (or several) capable of all kinds of surprises. They are also typically extremely well trained, well disciplined and zealous. It is something of a subversion/deconstruction though, since the good guys very frequently end up losing military engagements (defeating the Big Bad through some other means). It particularly applies to the Noldor when they arrive in Middle Earth, in The Silmarillion and kick the orcs from the sea-coast all the way back to their headquarters of Angband.
    • Also particularly applies to the elves of Ost-in-Edhil led by Celeborn. A few hundred elves hold off a numerically superior force of orcs for three days, before Elrond arrives with reinforcements from Imladris and breaks the siege. The vast majority of the elves are then able to escape from the city, which has to be abandoned since its location is now known, and even get to take most of their belongings with them. Celebrimbor had also sent the rings of power away to their intended bearers before Sauron's army got there, foiling his schemes to take them and distribute them himself. Sauron's only consolation prize for having his army decimated is the death of Celebrimbor. To put the icing on the cake, Sauron is unable to learn the location of Imladris: thanks to Elrond being friendly with the dwarves of Khazad-dûm. It's one of the few decisive elvish victories.
  • The Bridgeburners from the Malazan Book of the Fallen used to be Emperor Kellanved's favourites. The company was formed when seventy soldiers, a mage and an assassin reconquered the city of G'danisban, which was guarded by four hundred desert warriors, in one single night. They are known for killing any incapable commanders they may be assigned and for getting sent into the most difficult places, and have developed the motto "First in, last out."
  • In A Practical Guide to Evil, the Legions of Terror, the standing army of Praes, can regulary win against larger forces and are regarded as the finest army on the continent. Justified, because Praes is one of the few countries that has a professional army and not just conscripts, it is the only country with army mages, the soldiers get exhaustive training in tactics and combat, and there is a dedicated school for officers, sappers and military mages.
  • Redwall: The hares of Salamandastron's Long Patrol are almost always heavily outnumbered by the hordes of vermin they oppose, but never outclassed. Indeed, savvier vermin warlords know better than to seek out a confrontation with Salamandastron. It helps that the Long Patrol is usually led by a One-Man Army Badger Lord or Lady.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Each regiment of the Calvarian army functions this way. A force of about seven thousand of them crush an army over thirty thousand strong in The Baron of Maleperduys.
    • By Defender of the Crown, Reynard has whipped his Army of Thieves and Whores into one capable of beating the Calvarians at their own game.
  • In 1632, three thousand soldiers of Tilly's mercenary army, armed with seventeenth century weapons, comes up against the four hundred member's of Grantville's "army" (armed with modern weaponry and modern vehicles) like a log hits a rotary saw. The end result is nearly 1,200 mercenary prisoners, nearly 1,800 dead mercenaries, and four hundred victorious Americans.
  • The Mobile Infantry of the original Starship Troopers are very elite and use Powered Armor.
  • The Unsullied of Astapor, as featured in A Song of Ice and Fire. They are called the finest foot in the world, because they have discipline and intense training. However, they're not all that good at non- or para-military matters.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle:
    • The Morean Empire has the Vandariotes and the Scholae, who are both actually mercenary units, but are also good enough that Morea doesn't really need any forces beyond them.
    • Alba has the Order of Saint Thomas, a Church Militant of Magic Knights, who are small in number, but noted as the kingdom's most effective warriors.
  • In Victoria, Azania's armed forces are this, not because they are more badass than their enemies, but because they are vastly better equipped. A nation of technologically advanced Amazons in a post-apocalyptic wasteland inhabited mostly by barbarians and technology-haters, they field an early-21st-century-plus military with a heavy emphasis on air supremacy, guided artillery and drones, and so can threaten much larger, lower-tech enemy forces. Though they underperform notably when facing the main character's unit, due to the latter's Plot Armor.
  • The Witchlands has the Hell-Bards, an elite unit of Anti-Magic-equipped badasses tasked with hunting down and capturing unregistered witches with nothing but their wits and blades.

  • The Book of Mormon: The Lamanites always outnumber the Nephites, often by more than double, but the Nephites tend to have better equipment, better strategy, and better morale, as well as trusting God to empower and protect them. A noted example is when Amalickiah's invading army of Lamanites is intercepted and stopped in its tracks by Teancum's force, "for they were great warriors; for every man of Teancum did exceed the Lamanites in their strength and in their skill of war, insomuch that they did gain advantage over the Lamanites."

    Tabletop Games 
  • BattleTech: The Clans number less than the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere, but thanks to having a caste system with warriors on top (as well as significantly more advanced technology, at least initially), they wind up conquering a decent-sized chunk of the Inner Sphere when they first invade. Of course, their Training from Hell method of achieving this elite status for their warriors meant that they had considerable trouble replenishing the losses they suffered, meaning that the Inner Sphere was able to fight them on mostly even ground after that.
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Devils are this to the Demons. They field much smaller number in the Blood War, but the soldiers are well-regimented and trained, and able to fight the practically infinite number of Demons to a stalemate (both sides actually have infinite numbers, but the demons have more, don't think about it too much).
  • Mutant Chronicles is generally a subversion, with armies made up of cannon fodder with a sprinkling of elite units. However, some mention must be made of the Cartel Doomtroopers. Out of a population of 15,5 billion, there are never more than 200 active Doomtroopers. A fully trained and equipped Doomtrooper is expected to be a match for a thousand Dark Legionnaires, and they deliver.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Space Marines are the elite of the elite of the Imperium's armies — typical portrays have it so that only a handful of them are needed to subjugate a typical planet. However, they're also very few, due to the high cost and time needed to create and train them and their extremely strict requirements for candidates. As a result, the Imperium almost never fields large groups of them — Marines tend to be deployed judiciously in small strike teams, while mass combat and large-scale campaigns are usually handled by the immense legions of the more mundane Imperial Guard.
    • The Grey Knights are considered to be the elite of the space marines, with their Codex lampshading how hard it is to actually play them without using the allies rule due to being constantly outnumbered.
    • Talons of the Emperor pushes it even further. A Custodian is to an entire company of Space Marines what a company of Space Marines is to a single lobotomized baseline human — but only ten thousand Custodians exist at any given time, which on the Imperium's galaxy-spanning wars ins't a large number at all.
    • The Eldar and Dark Eldar as well. Relatively few models, and not particularly tough either, but highly mobile and generally decent at both shooting and close combat. Eldar troops are very specialised towards fighting certain opponents note  while the Dark Eldar eschew what little armour their good cousins take into battle in favour of even more speed and even more firepower. In-story, this is because the Eldar are a Higher-Tech Species yet also a borderline Dying Race, The Remnant of a long-fallen empire — so they have both the ability and the incentive to make every troop count.
    • The Necrons are similar yet opposite to the Eldar. Expensive troops, but absolutely devastating shooting — they have better weapons than Space Marines and they're much better shots with them — and unlike the flimsy elves, these literal killing machines are as tough as nails with above average Toughness and a decent save, not to mention all of them have a 33% chance to get back up when "killed". Their slow movement, below average Initiative and limited number of Attacks make most of them poorly suited to close combat, however. To further compound their eliteness, they had a special rule in older editions that meant the Necron player was defeated if his army was reduced to 25% of it's original points value - Necrons are deadly, but you need to keep them alive.
    • Subverted in the pre-Heresy days: the Iron Warriors' (deserved) reputation for being the best at siege warfare ended up with their being expected to do well even when outnumbered, in one case a 10-man squad was assigned to garrison an entire planet. This didn't make them proud; it pissed them off, because these deployments were inevitably long, tedious and thankless.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: One-on-one, elven soldiers are always better than their human counterparts — elven soldiers spend centuries practicing their trade, and are stronger and have better reflexes than and any human. A regular elven spearman or archer is better than any human veteran; an elite knight or specialist is superhuman. However, the elves are few in numbers, reproduce slowly, and take centuries to train new soldiers to their necessary skill levels. As a result, elven armies tend to consist of small, select cores of highly elite soldiers, facing hordes of less powerful but far more numerous enemies.
    • The Dwarfs also qualify. It helps that every single Dwarf is a capable fighter, from the lowliest coal miner or goat's cheese merchant to the High King himself. It also helps that their weapons technology is borderline Napoleonic (in a medieval setting) and some of the most advanced in the setting bar the Skaven - Dwarf armies feature disciplined infantry clad in inches-thick gromril armour, powerful siege guns, and steam-powered airships. Because the Dwarf empire was fatally fractured long ago and their insane honour system relegates them to a Dying Race, you pay a premium for all your nice Dwarfen units.

  • In Hong Kong-based toyline, Acid Rain World, factions such as the Agurts federation and Omangan empire have this dynamic with their military. The Agurts rely on their militia elements such as the Sand Troopers for the bulk of combat while their Spec Ops such as the Bucks Troopers and Zodiac Marksmen are the last line of defense. Meanwhile for Omangans, their conscript elements such as the Gendarmes are basically cannonfodder to throw at the enemy until they collapse. But the Omangans' real fighting force is the Abbadon Army - the soldiers in this elite army are either combat robots (a.k.a Puppets) or have been made into cyborgs and the Abbadon Army have their own special branch of Super-Soldier called the Reborn Troopers, who are first subjected to genetic engineering before undergoing the Omangan's most extensive bionics program.

    Video Games 
  • Act of War has the faction Task Force Talon. While just as American as the U.S. Army faction, Task Force Talon is a small, elite unit that specializes in the use of bleeding-edge technology such as men in Power Armor, stealth drone tanks with rail guns, snipers carrying 35mm rifles capable of downing a tank and etc.
  • The titular AI(s) of AI War: Fleet Command have one in the form of the strategic reserve. This is an abstract pool of units that the AI can draw from and spawn on specific worlds. All ships that are from the strategic reserve are mark 5 core units, meaning they'll pretty much be always superior if not equal to your forces in power.
    • The Core AI type further emphasizes this. While it's initial unit count and amount of units it can spawn throughout the game are reduced compared to most other AI types, ALL ships (when applicable) are mark 5. Have fun fighting it in the early game where it will effortlessly curb stomp you into oblivion.
  • The Protoss units in StarCraft are expensive, but powerful. To use each race's most basic infantry unit as a measurement, 100 minerals will get you 4 zerglings (35 HP each), 2 marines (45 HP), or 1 zealot (100 HP and 50 Shields).
    • Part of Starcraft's legacy is that most military strategy games have the three races: A race that uses the Zerg Rush (which StarCraft also named), a race that's the Jack of All Stats (Terrans), and a race that uses this trope.
  • The US Army in Command & Conquer: Generals leans this way, with powerful and versatile units that cost quite a lot. Their basic transport, the Humvee, is the second slowest of its kind and costs about 30% more than the flexible Technical of the GLA, but its passengers can shoot out of it and it can receive an upgrade to take on even light tanks by itself, and that's not to mention the drones it can build (much like all other US ground vehicles). Even the basic infantryman costs 150% of the opponents's, but on the other hand, those don't get crowd-control attacks (Flashbangs) and can't be dropped off into buildings, occupied (which clears out the enemy from it) or otherwise, by choppers.
  • Final Fantasy XIV: While most Ishgardian military affairs are handled by the Temple Knights, the Order of the Knights Dragoon are Ishgard's elite soldiers specially trained to hunt and kill dragons. Trained from an early age, the dragoons are famous for their ability to leap tremendous distances to chase dragons who would otherwise flee into the sky. At the head of them is the Azure Dragoon, the greatst dragoon of the generation empowered by the Eye to face dragons as powerful as Nidhogg on near-even terms.
  • Halo:
    • The Spartans, though it's subverted in that they're part of a larger force.
    • The Sangheili certainly live up to their nickname of "Elites", especially after they split from the Covenant. In Halo 3, an Elite fleet wipes the floor with a Covenant one three times its size.
  • Fire Emblem uses this trope in conjunction with the Arbitrary Headcount Limit, giving you ten to fifteen units to take down the enemy army. One of the most notable examples is in Blazing Sword, where you must defeat an enemy army of roughly sixty troops (with reinforcements spawning in every few turns) with about fifteen units.
  • The Allied Peacekeeper Division in Red Alert 3: Paradox is an international Elite Army, supplemented by the more conventional army in the Allied Reservists.
  • It's possible to build one (or 10, if you have the economy to support them) yourself in Total War: Rome II. Recruit some cohorts of praetorian guards, give them the best equipment, a high ranking general, some other upgrades and train them to veterancy and... Voila! You've got yourself an elite legion capable of achieving kill-ratios of 500:1.
  • Kanbei's Yellow Comet, in Advance Wars. His troops are more expensive and more powerful, which means that even though you'll see less of them during a battle, you may have more trouble getting rid of them than with other, more numerous, troops.
  • The titular battle force from Templar Battleforce is this. Justified in game; they are space marines with genetic memories, so each individual has millions of hours of training despite the average human lifespan not being appreciably longer.
  • The AGI Task Force ("ATF") in the X-Universe is a small, but very independent arm of the Terran military, which specializes in hunting down artificial general intelligence and the people who create them. ATF ships are incredibly powerful, as they are fast, well shielded, and very potent, with their only downside being smaller cargo bays, inability to use non-Terran weapons, and the only way (prior to X3: Albion Prelude) to acquire their ships is to make an enemy out of the entire Terran military by boarding ATF ships.
  • Crysis has the Ceph. In the second and third games, the basic Ceph Grunt is a seven and a half foot tall cyborg with a Healing Factor, telepathic communication with his comrades, an automatic rifle that can punch through heavy body armor like paper which he can fire accurately one-handed on the move, Powered Armor that makes him over thrice as durable as (heavily armored) CELL troopers, and vastly superhuman physiology enabling him to handily outrun any human as well as toss people around like ragdolls, climb walls, and perform ten-meter vertical leaps. This guy is The Goomba of the Ceph. They get much more insane from there.
  • Mass Effect: the asari military tends to be treated like this due to a combination of good training and every single soldier being a biotic. Asari commandos, their top agents, are considered some of the deadliest warriors in the galaxy, and going up against them without a massive numerical advantage is considered suicide (Shepard is just that much of a badass that they survive one-on-one fights with commandos). Their navy is small compared to their economic power, but it's adept at doing more with less and their dreadnoughts dwarf everyone else's and outclass most other ships in firepower, with the flagship, Destiny Ascension, being the most powerful single ship in the galaxy, worth as much as an entire fleet when it comes to combat effectiveness.
    Turian Saying: The asari are the finest warriors in the galaxy. Fortunately, there aren't very many of them.
    • Note that small is purely a relative term here; specifically relative to the massive size of their population and economy (the largest in the galaxy), not having had a total war in over 1,400 years and thus not seeing it as worth it to pour a lot of money into their armies or Space Navy. In absolute terms they still possess the third largest military in the galaxy after the turians and geth with many thousands of warships and tens of billions of soldiers including reserves.note  Chris L'Etoile noted that the asari and salarian fleets together roughly equal the turian fleet and that those three together have ten times as many warships as the humans, which fits the rough Fixed Relative Strength established by the dreadnought figures in the codex (turians 39, asari 21, salarians 16, humans 8). Note also that the codex states that they did manage to at least give the Reaper force attacking Thessia a bloody nose- it's just that the Reapers were so much more powerful than everyone else that it didn't matter (by comparison, Earth fell in literal minutes).
    • The salarian military is somewhat like this, with the codex noting that it's the smallest of the big three yet consistently has the best technology available to it. For example, by Mass Effect 3 the salarians have made the Thanix cannon standard on all of their ships, while the turians, asari, and humans are still retrofitting their fleets leaving most ships using regular mass accelerators.
  • Dragon Age: "Orlesian Chevaliers" - Orlesian knights known as the best warriors in Thedas.
  • Vector Thrust: boasts the Legion, an internationally-funded force of 200 pilots and associated political and military support that steps in to stabilise nuclear conflicts that go too far. They are widely regarded as the best aerial fighting force in the world.
  • The Sheredyn of Endless Space, originally the Praetorian Guard of the Emperor, have since become an effectively independent entity after they assisted a coup and installed a new Emperor. Compared with the military/economic powerhouse of the Empire, the Sheredyn lean more towards military, with incredibly durable ships, some minor economic bonuses, and their special ability means that enemies cannot retreat. However, their sense of honor and asceticism means that happiness drops when they break a treaty and they receive reduced bonuses from luxury goods.
  • The Wehrmacht in Company of Heroes. German infantry are usually much tougher than their American counterparts and much better equipped too (at least early on), and the less said about their heavy big cats, the better. However, the Americans are generally much more versatile, more numerous and later are able to narrow the gap with upgrades and special abilities. This is thematically appropriate: in World War II in real life, while the Germans continued desperately rushing development of ever-more advanced (and also often zany and of dubious military value and engineering quality) "wonder weapons" to try and counter the ever-increasing numerical disparity between them and their opponents, the Allies preferred more simply mass-producing their tried-and-true weapons and vehicles with incremental improvements to suit changing battlefield situations. No cookie for guessing who came out second-best in that scenario.
  • In the Fallout series, the Enclave's ridiculously small population (1000 people at most, including children and elderly) was compensated by their technological advancement and superior training. A single Enclave soldier was heavily armed and armored enough to wipe out a town, easily, and was extremely well-trained and skilled to boot. A single 6-9 man squad of them outside the Oil Rig at any time represents the most potent military force in postwar California outside of the Brotherhood of Steel or NCR.
    • While not taken to the same degree as the Enclave, the Brotherhood of Steel's forces are comparable to theirs. Being an extremely well trained and equipped force, clad in Power armor and wielding high end energy weapons.
      • Deconstructed however in Fallout: New Vegas, when the NCR got fed up with the Mojave chapter (who were at the time behaving like very heavily-armed bandits confiscating technology from NCR citizens and trade caravans at gunpoint) and the two sides went to war: although the Brotherhood's superior technology and training won them a few decisive victories early on, the NCR's huge economy and manpower pool allowed them to replace their decimated conscript armies time and time again, while the Brotherhood gradually dwindled down to nothing and grew more and more desperate. Eventually the Brotherhood was crippled after a disastrous defeat at HELIOS One; half the chapter was slaughtered holding the line against the NCR while the Elder ventured inside seeking a rumoured pre-War Kill Sat superweapon inside, that he eventually found he could not use as the laser designator was lost. Ironically the Brotherhood's greatest victory against the NCR in the whole war was sending a crack force to destroy their gold reserves, sending their economy into meltdown; the lesson here is wars are won and lost by manpower and economic concerns rather than tactical victories and K/D ratios.
  • Europa Universalis II and III has the Quantity/Quality slider, which influences where on the scale from this trope to Zerg Rush a country's army are (though obviously factors like technology and commanding officer quality matters as well) — once you move from the centre towards the quality end, you start to get less manpower, slower reinforcement and slower and costlier army construction, but (with variance between the two games) increased morale and organization, resulting in a smaller military that recovers slowly from losses but also takes less losses (quantity, of course, is the exact opposite). The Land/Naval slider has a different cost — moving towards one side or the other gives a more powerful and larger army or navy, respectively, but at the cost of making the other costlier without becoming more powerful.
  • In Tyranny, the Disfavored and the Unbroken.
    • The Disfavored are the elite of the North, each worth dozens of ordinary soldiers, and they are lead by the aptly-titled and much-beloved Archon of War. Their discipline is legendary, their courage unquestioned by even their worst enemies, and their retribution terrifying.
    • The Unbroken are the only army to earn the otherwise deeply racist Disfavored's begrudging respect. Before Kyros came, the Unbroken were never conquered in all the many wars that tore apart the Tiers. Even when Kyros dropped the Edict of Storms on their lands, turning the lush forests into a blasted wasteland renamed the Blade Grave, they continued to fight on.
  • The Metal Gear series has the villains typically being a small-knit group of very powerful irregular soldiers who, in turn, command a large number of Mooks, such as FOXHOUND, Dead Cell, The Cobras, and The B&B Corps.
  • The Foehn Revolt subfactions in Mental Omega are composed of expensive but powerful forces. The Knightframe, costs around four times as much as the equivalent infantry of other factions, but they compensate that with double health, triple damage with some splash included, an anti-air attack, immunity to dog/spook bites or being crushed by all but the heaviest vehicles and higher resilience towards anti-infantry weapons. It can also be upgraded through Nanofiber Sync into Kingsframes, losing its anti-air attack and its ability to garrison but gaining extra health, extra damage against infantry and buildings, an immunity to EMP, and making it uncrushable by any vehicle in the game. And this is their basic infantry. The vast majority of units in the Revolt follow a similar theme. It is also impliednote  that this is the case lorewise, with the Foehn Revolt lacking the manpower that any of the other factions can draw upon, but also possessing the overall most advanced technology in the setting, the aptitude to apply that to war and a capable commander that lacks the "can only be in one place" limitation of the others (due to being an AI that can allocate subroutines to specific battles).
  • The Ninja Warriors (1994) has The Resistance desperately send out their 3 Flawed Prototype ninja robots against Banglar the Tyrant's army when he learns where their base is and invades. The 3 not only mop the floor with the army but also assassinate Banglar to put the rebels in charge. The remake The Ninja Warriors Once Again gives you 5 robot ninjas, which amounts to the other 2 finishing off survivors from the first 3 ninjas.
  • Noblemen: 1896 from Foursaken Media, has your Nobleman's army have armies within it (it's the game's terminology for a specialist company). These include the Marauders (x3 health, x2 melee damage), the 101 Armored Division (x3 health), the Hammer Vanguard (x3 health) and more. The limiting factor is that these armies cost twice as much supplies as an advanced army (which in turn is significantly more expensive than a basic army) and they have unit restrictions - the Marauders can only take infantry that specialize in melee, the 101 Armored Division only has vehicle and armored infantry, and the Hammer Vanguard have only vehicles and artillery.

    Web Original 
  • Fen Quest: The force led by Grand Helm Knight Zall in the Mausoleum campaign consists entirely of knights, without any of the cannon-fodder "pawns" that comprise the bulk of the army. This also seems to be, more generally, the role of the Assassin's Branch, which focuses on killing high-value targets while other branches make sure they're not crushed by numbers.

    Western Animation 
  • In Samurai Jack, Jack has had to face a few of these. They tend to be some of the toughest opposition Jack encounters, and he sometimes decisively loses against them. Then again, Jack himself is a One-Man Army.
    • The Three Blind Archers guard a well that grants wishes. With their bows, which can generate an endless supply of arrows, and their quick and ultra-precise aim by listening to the quietest of sounds, they are able to effortlessly wipe out an invading army down to just their commander in a matter of minutes. Jack himself proves unable to approach them either until he learns that they're blind.
    • Exdor's robots, which number seven, were built specifically to kill Jack. Each of them is an equal with Jack in speed, attack him in a coordinated manner, and are completely encased in armor that even Jack's sword cannot break, requiring Exdor, who secretly wants them destroyed, to equip Jack with the force needed to cut them open. Even then, Jack can only destroy six of them—he requires divine intervention to defeat the one wielding a sword.
    • The Minions of Set are invulnerable to any weapon not granted holy power, and even then, they self-regenerate too quickly for Jack's holy sword to do much to them. The three of them are also very fast, relentless, and strong. They are one of the few villains that Jack is completely powerless against and, like with Exdor's robots, require help from a god, though this time around, Jack knows it and spends much of the battle (though it's more like a pursuit, as Jack soon learns he's no match for the Minions) searching for a way to summon Ra and banish the Minions.
    • Though they don't see themselves as a military unit, the Hunters of Imakandi are the most skilled team in the universe at tracking down and capturing a target. Jack also finds himself completely outmatched against this trio, but that's because they're just that agile and skilled in combat. They are they only combatants hired by Aku known to have successfully captured Jack and turn him in.
    • The Daughters of Aku underwent Training from Hell from the moment they were able to walk, undergoing an unceasing regimen to be the ultimate fighters. Unlike most villains in the series, these seven women do not reveal themselves once they engage Jack in battle, preferring to ambush and remain unseen, speaking only when absolutely necessary. The Daughters completely deplete Jack of his weapons when they first fight him in a forest. Jack retreats to a dark ruined temple, where they follow him and almost kill him by destroying his armor as well. It's only when Jack manages to ambush them by camouflaging himself in a snowstorm that he gains the upper hand.

    Real Life 
  • Due to its comparatively little population and little military culture, Carthage fielded armies formed by large masses of vassals and mercenaries of various elite status. Their best people were their Hispanic troops (whose medium cavalry had no real match this side of Persia, and whose line infantry came with such deadly swords that the Romans copied them as soon as possible), as well as the Numidians (who had horses just as fast as the Hispanics and absolutely excelled in hit-and-run tactics). This sometimes included the Lybians, a relatively mediocre heavy infantry division that could however shine when applied in the right moments and places of the battle. Unfortunately for Carthage during the Punic Wars, not even this could compensate that, aside from basically Hamilcar and Hannibal Barca, Carthage did not have strategists to match the strenght if their soldiers.
    • The city also used to have a citizen unit called the Sacred Band (similar to that of Thebes, although apparently without the whole Battle Couple aspect), although, in a subversion, it was elite only in name, having a really lackluster record before being disbanded.
    • At the time of the first Punic war, the Carthaginian navy was so prestigious that modern estimates calculate it might have been a match for Xerxes' fleet during the Greco-Persian Wars. However, the Romans constantly learned from their engagements with the Carthaginian ships, so the effectiveness of Roman warships increased dramatically from the war's beginning to the war's end and it ultimately cancelled the Punic advantage.
  • The army of the Spanish Empire was composed of many nationalities, among them Spaniards, Italians, Germans, Dutch and some others. The Germans in particular were considered among their best line troops in the world, especially the famed lansquenete mercenaries, which Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba used to great effect in his re-organization of the Spanish army. Reportedly, The Duke of Alba said in one of his letters to King Philip II, "...please don't send me any more Italians, because it will be lost money; but send me all the German mercenaries you can get".
  • In the first decades of the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors had overwhelming military advantages over the native American peoples. The Iberians belonged to a more militarily advanced civilization with better techniques, tools, firearms, artillery, steel, and domesticated lifeforms (horses and mules carried them, pigs fed them, dogs fought for them, and the European diseases they brought didn't affect them as much). As a result, small armies of just a few hundred Spaniards often successfully engaged indigenous forces reaching the five digits, often winning solely by breaking the enemy morale after steamrolling the first engagements (throw it in that people of Mesoamerica rarely fought total wars, limiting themselves to so-called "flower wars", whose purpose was to collect prisoners to sacrifice to the gods, so fighting long campaigns of attrittion was alien to them). After the first alliances between natives and Spaniards, such as those signed by Vasco Núñez de Balboa and Hernán Cortés, conquistador armies became a multi-national issue, with a small core of Spaniards acting as the tip of the spear and a much larger host of indigenous allies acting as body and support.
    • The Confederacy of Tlaxcala, the rival to the Aztec Empire that backed Cortés for most of his campaigns, also had their own army divisions. They would use his main army for serious engagements, but for frontier scuffles they would first trust on forces of Otomí and Chontal Mayan vassals.
    • In the Inca Empire, the Cañari tribe usually provided the best warriors, to the point Emperor Huáscar formed his Praetorian Guard with them. When his brother Atahualpa rose against him and took his throne, the Cañaris remained loyal to Huáscar for his good treatment, leading Atahualpa to inflict gigantic vendettas on them to make a point... which backfired spectacularly upon the arrival of Francisco Pizarro, who found in the resentful tribesmen his best allies.
  • The Portuguese conquests in Asia in the 16th century. The Portuguese were usually outnumbered ten to one or more, consisted solely of light infantry (as all the forces had to be seaborne, not the best environment for cavalry and pike blocks), and unlike the Native Americans, the Muslim states they were fighting had steel, horses, and gunpowder. The Portuguese however had superior armor (nearly all had partial plate, while only the elites in South and Southeast Asia got any metal armor, usually mail), better guns (most of their enemies had primitive gunpowder weapons, though some had arquebuses more or less on par with what they were using), infinitely better ships (to the point that single Portuguese ships often wiped out entire Indian fleets due to superior speed and armament), and, perhaps most importantly, superior men, with the Portuguese soldiery being widely feared and exhibiting morale and skill that their enemies could never match. On top of that, the Portuguese had massively superior artillery in both range and power, and their star forts were unheard of in the region and near-impossible for their enemies to take by storm. All of this led to small Portuguese forces of a few hundred marines in a handful of ships routinely smashing entire state militaries, as happened in Goa, Ormuz, Diu (repeatedly), Cochin, Malacca (repeatedly), Johor, and elsewhere. The fact that the Portuguese were able to maintain their rule for centuries, even in the face of powerful enemy coalitions, is also telling.
  • During the Battle of Mogadishu, later depicted in the book and film Black Hawk Down, a small group of 120 US Rangers and Delta Force operators supported by some Malaysian and Pakistani armored vehicles fended off somewhere from two to four thousand Somali militiamen. At the end of the battle, the Somalis had lost at least 133 militiamen killednote  at the cost of 19 dead + two helicopters shot down on the American side.
  • In an insect world example, compare the number of Japanese giant hornets to European honeybees and who wins.
  • Being able to win through against larger numbers of enemy fighters is half the point of special forces. The other is specialising in operations too difficult for normal troops to handle.
  • Mercenaries were like this, historically, As opposed to citizen soldiers (as in antiquity, most notably the Roman legions), who were numerous but had limited training, equipment, or expeditionary capability, or feudal levies, who were required to be well equipped and train extensively but still spent most of their time living as civilians. Mercenaries usually had the best gear and most experience because they were the only truly professional soldiers of the era, besides landed aristocratic troops like samurai and knights (who weren't very numerous). This actually became a problem during the Thirty Years' War when everyone used mercenaries to such an extent that wars were prolonged to pay for them.
  • In Japanese history, the Samurai class emerged out of the Genpei War of 1180. As they were a military nobility and the only professional soldiers in Japan at the time, they were regarded as One Man Armies compared to the levies commonly used.
  • Charles XI of Sweden realized that he had neither the economy nor the manpower to support a large army to defend the empire his father, aunt, and great-uncle had built. Instead he established Indelningsverket, where every province had to raise a regiment. Ten farmsteads were expected to find one soldier, arm and equip him and give him a small farm that could support him and his family. As a result, the soldiers were integrated into the local community and a great sense of comradeship grew between both the soldiers and their officers (who lived on bigger farms and in mansions in the same villages as their soldiers). The resulting boost to morale managed to make up for small numbers and the Swedish Army dominated the European battlefields from 1680 to 1709.
  • Prussia (a descendant of The Teutonic Knights) became known for this during its existence. One of its descriptions was the rather apt "Whereas most states possess an army, Prussia is an army that possesses a state." Led by brilliant military leaders and filled with experienced soldiers, what Prussia lost in its relative lack of a navy it regained with the sheer badassery of its army. Prussia itself essentially created Germany as a nation after breaking away from Austria and launching into a rivalry with it. The Prussian stereotype continued until the reign of Otto von Bismarck, and even during the World Wars. Hence the stereotype of the Nazis being considered the world's most advanced and sophisticated military.