Command DestroyersMukk Barovian
These things are inbound. We have a lot of ground to cover so I will not go over the basics. Check here for the dev post. The command destroyers have two defining modules; gang links and the Micro Jump Field Generator (MJFG). Both of these are game changers. Luckily for us, they do not interact with each other to make more complicated effects than the separate parts on their own. We can examine command destroyer fittings to utilize each module separately.
This is another step in the chain required to nuke off-grid links. CCP have stated that rhe eventual goal will happen no sooner than Christmas. *Sometime* but not December. This could mean anything from January 1st 2016 to never. My understanding is that we stand on the cusp of off grid links dying. As soon as other higher priority projects clear up enough to allow some developer time, it is going to happen.
In the meantime, command destroyers make cheap off grid link boats. There is fitting room for one command processor, two links, a prop mod or two, and maybe some ECCM. The cost for this package, including an appropriate mindlink, will be about 100 million ISK. Veteran players will scoff at only two links compared to the options a T3 provides. If you throw enough money at the problem, you can make an off-grid T3 warp fast enough to provide support for a frigate fleet. You can even make this work with four links. The beneficiaries are newbies and fledgeling FCs who will be relieved by the cheap, easy to train links.
The bad news is that command destroyers are going to fail their duties when the off grid booster nerf comes. Why? They can only run one link when fit for combat. Frigate fleets relying on these ships are going to be sorely disappointed. For example, a HAC fleet lead by command ships will have six to eight links running. A T3 destroyer fleet with command destroyers will only have two. If the fleets clash, the T3 destroyer fleet will be at a severe disadvantage, even before you take into account the weaker fighting power of T3 destroyers compared to HACs.
If links are going to be a thing in the game, at their current power level, then every fleet needs some way to have access. One simple fix would be to have the powergrid reduction bonus also apply to command processors. It would then be possible to close the gap on the number of links these can bring on a combat fit. Alternatively, CCP could give command destroyers a role bonus to be able to run two links at the same time. If this does not happen, it will be a crippling weakness for small fleets. A Taranis from a frigate fleet will die in a 1v1 to a Taranis in a HAC fleet.
There is more value to be found in the tackle wing of any fleet, even if the fleet has command ships or off grid T3s. A fleet’s tackle wing often finds itself ahead of the main fleet’s bonuses. Now a T3 destroyer could head up a squad of tacklers and provide the relevant bonuses. What value is it to an inty pilot to always have interdiction maneuvers (longer points)? How much would the bait ships appreciate having bonuses to their resistances in the crunch? Applying appropriate links to some small part of the fleet is going to be easier than ever before.
More people will have links in more situations. The destroyers do a pretty good job of rounding out this kind of fleet service. However we will have some problems transitioning to on grid links if the destroyers are suddenly asked to replace off grid T3 boosters.
CCP have been pushing AOE effects to try to force people to ‘fly their own ships.’ The Micro Jump Field Generator seems to involve this idea. A small clump of ships anchored on one guy is a prime target for the MJFG, as are pilots who are not paying attention. Once a player is forced 100KM off his fleet they will have to manually pilot for at least a bit to survive. If this is the intention, strategies to strip pilots out of their fleets should be possible to carry out. The offensive value of breaking a fleet apart cannot be underestimated. Cap chains go down, logistics cannot reach friendlies, focused fire breaks down as those who are far away may not be able to hit the enemy.
The simplest execution is for the command destroyer to put an enemy on approach and activate the MJFG once they are in range. Counters to this are pretty simple. Kill the command destroyer, or scramble it. A hictor with a focus point has plenty of range to scramble anything near the fleet. That would be my defense of choice. It is pretty easy to stop a command destroyer if you are looking out for it. The MJFG causes sig bloom and takes 6 seconds to go off, a good HIC pilot will stop it every time.
It is not so easy to stop a suicide wave of many command destroyers. The Imperium could theoretically steer a ‘Fuck You’ style fleet into an enemy formation and scatter it to the winds. Smaller entities may find getting numbers a bit more difficult, but the math is simple: Send in more command destroyers than the defenders have defensive scramblers. Add a few extra to account for some losses in the attempt.
The Scramble Chain
It sounds stupid, but one effective counter would be to scramble every ship in your own fleet. Theoretically you could rely on afterburners for propulsion. This safeguards against being thrown to the winds by overwhelming numbers of CDs.
I remember the war between Pandemic Legion and Brave Newbies. We flew smaller numbers of expensive ships against their blob and we huddled around triage carriers. If our Tempest Fleet Issues had been stripped out of our fleet and taken 100km away, beyond the range of our triage, they would have died in seconds. We would have lost battles. Scrambling ourselves would have been a logical counter to the threat. It is not as if our armor battleships were going anywhere.
The Two Step Nab
The main vulnerability of command destroyers is being scrambled or killed at the end of their attack run. They are very vulnerable as their MJFG spool up. Fortunately for everybody who hates game balance, there is a way around these risks. MJFG can be chained. Nothing is forcing you to start your spool up in the middle of the enemy fleet. What if instead, a fraction of a second before you finished spooling up, a buddy in another command destroyer jumped you into the middle of the enemy fleet? It looks something like this.
Have a cloaky prober set up a spot 100KM off the enemy fleet. Warp in two command destroyers, and align to a target 100km away. Both command destroyers immediately turn on their MJFG as soon as they begin to align. Whichever MJFG goes off first takes both command destroyers into the middle of the enemy fleet. Then, a fraction of a second later the second MJFG goes off and everyone in range goes for another ride, ending up 100km away from the main enemy fleet. The victims are now ripe for ganking.
Keep in mind that nothing stops a friendly interdictor or an entire fleet for going along for the ride. Using this strategy, a cheap gank fleet of something stupid such as Thrashers could sweep into a Tengu fleet, abscond with a Tengu, and gank it 100KM or more away from its logistics support. Then they could run away. Some of them would surely die, but I can guarantee the strategy will be cost effective.
Counters to this are limited. Command destroyers can be sniped in the 6 second window as they spool up 100KM away. But that is not going to be easy, and even if a fleet regularly manages that, the aggressors can start at 200KM and execute a 3 step nab with 3 command destroyers. If command destroyers are being sniped when they start at 200KM, they can execute a 4 step nab from 300KM, outside lock range. The best counter is to just keep moving. This tactic works well against slow or stationary targets, but it will not be able to hit fast ships moving quickly.
You can also add in more command destroyers and take the victims further away. However, you need to be careful. If you haul your victim 300KM away from the enemy fleet, they can all warp to their friends. It only makes sense to do this if the hostile fleet is bubbled or engaged by a 3rd fleet.
Cloak + MJD
On the test server as I write this, command destroyers can activate their MJFG in the few seconds after they turn on their cloaking device. They never disappear on the overview, but they cannot be locked until the spool-up has finished. There is a 4KM window between the 2KM decloak radius and the 6KM grab radius. This is enough room for a good pilot to maneuver in and pull off an invulnerable MJFG activation.
The two step nab can also be done cloaked. The two command destroyers warp in on a fleet warp, and if they land more than 2KM from each other, they can cloak before activating their MJD. This is almost impossible to stop.
A command destroyer is entirely capable of providing transport for its own fleet. The first idea I heard using this was to haul a sniper fleet around in the style of Stinky Petes. It seems to me that that kind of activity depends on a lot of things going right, is a little gimmicky, and would fail if the destroyers were to be sniped. Without going into details, Stinky Petes are already incredible at what they do. Command destroyers may make Petes better, but I do not see command destroyers replacing the mobility of Petes.
Instead, I imagine the command destroyer as an incredibly aggressive ship that combined with scramming hictors, is going to force people to brawl. Let me demonstrate. Imagine you want to scramble a good chunk of an enemy fleet and force them to brawl you. For this purpose you have a few command destroyers, some hictors with multiple focused points, and a virtue prober. This is the area of space that you threaten with your scramblers:
Kiters are safe from being scrambled when they are 38 – 62 KM from the tackle group, and when they are 138 – 150 KM from the tackle group. This is a very narrow band of space to work in. The 38 -62 KM band is particularly difficult because some hictors could MJFG forward while others MWD at the kiters like so:
The solution here is to kill the command destroyer before hictors get jumped into range. The problem is that a command destroyer could happily chill at a ping until it is needed, then warp down to the fleets hictors and jump them. There would only be a 6 second window to snipe the command destroyer.
In several ways, command destroyers are capable of shifting the entire meta. The promise of mixing hictors and command destroyers to force brawling situations is amazing. The ability to abduct enemies out of slow fleets will penalize slow moving blobs. Theoretically we could see fleets built to fight in ways that are very different to the combat styles we see today. Adaptations we would be looking for include:
-Good brawling ability at 35KM
-Ability to snipe destroyers at 100KM
-Good mobility for burning back to the fleet from 100KM away
-Ability to fight while scrambled
I need to place a big fat asterisk over all of this. If it turns out that blapping command destroyers before they do their thing is easy, then none of this will happen. Command destroyers will exceed Falcons as being public enemy number one. They will die in numbers to experienced FCs, and destroy weak FCs until they also learn to shoot them first. As such, the tank attached to these command destroyers is incredibly important. It seems that they can can get pretty beefy. After crunching numbers on the test server I have reached values of 36-40K EHP. Is that enough to get the job done? I don’t know. We will have to find out in the field.