This article covers advanced covert ops frigate tactics. It assumes that the reader is already familiar with the basic principles of fitting and flying a covert ops frigate including basic techniques for survival in bubble camps and the use of scan probes, neither of which will be covered here. This article is intended not only to provide the basis for advanced training of covert ops pilots themselves but also to familiarize FCs with the capabilities and tactics available to any gang which includes a covert ops frigate.
The Purpose of Drops
Covert ops frigates are most commonly used in a gang to provide recon. However, they can also be used to devastating effect in combat by providing precision warp-ins for a friendly gang, often dropping that gang directly on a target even at the very edge of a bubble. Instead of having to warp directly towards a gate, station, or other celestial, a gang with a covert ops ship available has the option of warping instead to the covert ops pilot who has placed himself, cloaked, on-grid with the enemy, in a tactically advantageous position. This may allow the gang to avoid getting caught by hostile bubbles or interdictors; it allows an FC to dictate the terms of an engagement by permitting him to attack on his terms, not the enemy's; it can generate opportunities to draw a hostile gang apart or to thin their ranks; and it tends to demoralize and discourage an enemy who finds his ships suddenly, unexpectedly, and repeatedly attacked at positions he had thought were safe, only to watch in frustration as the attacking gang melts away before he can retaliate. In essence, by enabling your gang to perform precision maneuvers on the battlefield, the covert ops frigate acts as a force multiplier which will often allow your gang to engage superior forces and win.
The tactics covered in this article can be used in a wide variety of situations. But a well trained covert ops pilot is perhaps most useful and has the greatest opportunity to shine when attacking a bubble camp of superior force. The basic technique involves placing the covert ops frigate in a position on the enemy camp such that a friendly gang warping to him will land precisely on the target without getting caught by the bubble, even if the target happens to be sitting right at the edge of it! A ship will only get caught by a bubble if three conditions are met: the bubble must be up at the time at which the ship enters warp, the bubble must be within 150km of the landing point, and the path the ship takes in warp must intersect the bubble. A covert ops pilot trying to set up a drop on a bubble camp usually can't do much about the first two conditions. So his job is to set up a clean drop on the target by ensuring that the gang does not warp in aligned to the bubble. He does this by placing his ship on the far side of the target from some celestial such that his ship, the target, and the celestial are all in line but not aligned with the bubble. He then calls for the gang to warp to him at the appropriate range so that they land right on the target without getting caught by the bubble. See fig 1:
In this figure, the covert ops ship is 10km beyond the target aligned to the EWOK-K gate with the target lying directly between them. If the gang warps to the covert ops frigate at 10km from the EWOK-K gate, it will land precisely on the target. It will not get caught in the bubble because the path the gang takes in warp does not intersect it.
One important thing to bear in mind is that ships do not exit warp at their exact destination. Rather, all ships will exit warp at some point on a 2500m sphere centered around their intended destination. Therefore, the covert ops pilot needs to make allowance for this by trying to drop the gang at least 2500m from the edge of the bubble. Otherwise some members of the gang may end up inside the edge of the bubble even though they weren't aligned with it and will not be ‘dragged’ into it.
It may not always be possible to set up a clean warp-in which lands the gang precisely on top of the target. Fortunately, it also isn't necessary. In many cases, anything within warp disruptor or warp scrambler range will do. So if a precise drop directly on top of the target is impossible, the covert ops pilot may have to settle for dropping the gang to one side or above or below the target, but still within range to point it. See fig 2:
In this figure, the covert ops pilot cannot drop the gang directly on the target from the EWOK-K gate because the path from that gate intersects the second bubble. If he tried to do so, the gang would not land on the target, but would get sucked into the bubble instead. So he positions himself a little higher so that if the gang warps to him at 20km, it will land 8 km from the target, still well within point range, but it will not get caught in the bubble. Triangulation is much harder to get right than a direct drop and the longer the distances involved, the more difficult it is to land the gang just where you want it. Some people see spatial relationships more readily than others and it may take practice and experience to develop the kind of judgment required to do this well.
It is important to note that it is not always the best course of action to drop the friendly gang outside the bubble or camp. There are situations where dropping the gang in the bubble is the best option, and in these situations the covert ops pilots can decide where the most strategic drop location will be in order to engage the enemy gang.
Good covert ops pilots are commonly good FCs since developing situational awareness takes experience and practice. FCs have the final say on which targets they want their covert ops pilots to set up for the drop, but the FC is not the one sitting there on grid with eyes on the hostile gang. To some extent, he must depend on the judgment of his covert ops pilots in selecting the right targets given the particular tactical situation that the gang is facing at that time. So a good covert ops pilot needs to be aware of the capabilities of both the friendly and the enemy gangs relative to one another. He will need to be sensitive to the composition of each gang, how quickly they can warp, how quickly they can lock, how quickly your gang can destroy the targets present on grid, how quickly the enemy can respond, how well your gang can survive that response, etc. In many cases, the FC will not stop to ask these questions explicitly. Instead, he will usually just tell his covert ops pilot to get him a target and he will expect that pilot to choose well. If the covert ops makes a mistake on the drop or chooses the target poorly, he may get the gang wiped out.
As a general rule, covert ops pilots should avoid dropping a gang within smartbomb range of a battleship. Some faction smartbombs have a range of 7500m, therefore the minimum recommended range at which to drop the gang is 10km. Use the 'look at' feature to check for turrets on battleships and drop the gang outside of smartbomb range, either by warping them in at a longer range or by using the triangulation method described above.
Ricocheting a gang involves providing an initial drop on one target followed by a TAM to a second target. The first target may or may not be destroyed before the gang TAMs to the second. It can be executed by two covert ops ships each providing one of the drops or it could be performed by a single covert ops ship using bookmarks or scan probes to move quickly from the first target to the second. This tactic can be very effective for killing ships that like to stay cloaked until they have a reason to decloak. For example, a falcon or sniper might be lurking on grid under the supposed protection of a cloak. Once the gang warps in to attack the first target, the cloaked ship decloaks to engage, only to find that as soon as he does so, the gang pivots and warps directly to him resulting in a kill! This can have a hugely demoralizing effect on the enemy, especially since cloaked pilots usually perceive themselves to be safe. And since they may not understand how this is being done, it can appear that your gang has the mysterious ability to strike anyone, anywhere, at any time!
If a gang gets a drop on a target at a bubble camp, kills it, and warps off without looting the wreck, somebody from the camp will hurry over to loot it almost right away. The alert covert ops pilot can warp right back down to the wreck to get a drop on the looter. It is not recommended to try this too often: enemy forces can also warp to that wreck, perhaps dropping an interdictor bubble on your gang as it arrives to kill the looter! Once a kill is made the covert ops pilot can stay where he is currently for the first drop and watch the reaction of the enemy gang. This may automatically provide him with the second drop for the looter.
Point Interceptor Attack (PIA)
The Point Interceptor Attack is used to draw an enemy gang's interceptors/fast tacklers away from their camp where they can be easily dispatched. This is generally used to devastating effect by medium destroyer gangs. It begins by carrying out a few hit-and-run attacks on the heavier ships in order to provoke the enemy into rashly committing his interceptors on the next warp-in. The idea is to frustrate the enemy by warping in, hitting a target, and warping back out before he has a chance to tackle anyone. After a few of these attacks, he may become desperate to tackle something and so order his interceptors to grab anything they can before the gang gets away again. Execute the PIA by dropping the gang 30-40km from the camp. When the interceptors burn out to tackle the gang, you can engage the interceptors, killing them very quickly. Since interceptors die to destroyers so quickly, it may be useful to divide the fleet's dps between several targets at once. Since the covert ops pilot is the one with eyes on the gate, it will be his job to identify those targets by name for the FC. The effect of wiping out a bubble camp's interceptors in one fell swoop is spectacular.
Dual Drops with Dual Covert Ops
A gang with two covert ops frigates on grid at the same bubble camp has the option of dividing itself so that one half of the gang drops on one target while the other half drops on a second target simultaneously. The larger and more powerful the gang, the more sense it makes to try to do this. Often in a pvp-wolfpacks class, for example, the target will melt before half of the gang's dps arrives. Rather than waste all that dps, an FC with dual covert ops available may choose to try to kill two targets at once. Apart from getting twice as many kills and looking pretty cool in the process, doing a dual drop with divided forces has the added benefit of confusing an enemy who is undoubtedly accustomed to being attacked only at one place at a time with all hostile fire focused on a single primary target. Dual drops are simple in principle, but in practice they require a high degree of organization and good command and control and clear communications to execute successfully. First of all, the gang needs to be divided correctly into squads or wings with capable commanders of each. Then each covert ops pilot needs to independently but simultaneously set up a warp-in on a separate target. Since it is likely that the squads will have to warp in at different ranges and from different directions, clear communications are essential. Covert ops pilots should call out their warp-ins as follows:
Jaepee: Squad 1 warp to Jaepee from the EWOK-K gate at 50km
King: Squad 2 warp to King from planet IX at 10km
Squad leaders need to warp their squads separately to their initial points to begin their attack: in this case, squad 1 goes to the the EWOK-K gate and squad 2 goes to planet IX. Squad leaders report that they are ready when they are in position and aligned to the target. The FC then orders the squad leaders to execute their attacks either by having them warp simultaneously or, if there is a significant difference in the distances they have to warp, by telling one of them to initiate warp before the other so that both squads arrive at their targets more-or-less simultaneously.
A covert ops pilot should pay special attention to any interdictors and heavy interdictors. By TAM'ing with their own covert ops, interdictors and HICs can warp on top of the gang and force a pitched battle. This can happen on grid or off grid as long as the enemy's covert ops pilot gets a location on your gang. To avoid being forced into a pitched battle make sure you recognize and spatially locate any interdictors in the enemy gang. Frequently check for combat scanner probes that may not be friendly. And always consider making the interdictor primary before any other target to remove the threat. If the interdictor is made primary, he may nevertheless force a pitched battle by dropping a bubble that catches some portion of the gang. If enemy combat scan probes are in the air, FCs should try to keep their distance from the enemy gang and continue bouncing around safes until drops can be established. With good scan probe skills, a covert ops frigate can get a warpable result on lighter gangs with probes set to 2AU and heavier gangs from 4AU.
These are just a few of the tactics available to a gang that includes a skilled covert ops pilot and an FC who are both aware of the same options and understand the same tactics. It is critical that both know the tactics so that they can be executed effortlessly and effectively. But the possibilities for other creative tactics are really endless. It should also be noted that although this article focused on the use of covert ops in light, fast gangs to attack heavy gate camps such as Agony often finds itself doing in pvp-basic and pvp-wolfpacks courses, these tactics can nevertheless be adapted to any situation.