Original text by Rells
One of the most common things that you will hear about being a fleet commander in Eve is that you need to learn how to do proper target calling. However, the reality is that the term "target calling" is actually a rather simplistic answer to a complex question. What is more, not only the fleet commander needs to determine the right order to take down ships but ideally the pilot of each ship knows the right order as well. The reason for this is that the right target depends on dozens of factors that include the current situation and the ship you are flying. For example, it would make absolutely no sense for a battleship to be trying to kill an interceptor in the fight but a destroyer would make short work of that interceptor and contribute far more by killing him than he would by putting another 120 dps on the main target of the heavy fleet. What this means is that you in your destroyer may actually not be shooting at the primary target in a fleet but rather at something else. As you can see, the complexity of the situation is much more deep than simply the "shoot at primary" policy that many organizations promote and indeed scold others if they fail to do so.
In order to figure out what target you need to be shooting at or placing your EWAR on, you need to learn how to properly assess a situation and a particular fight and make decisions about where your ship can be best employed. Not only does this involve understanding your weapons and EWAR but also being acutely aware of the situation and its constant, fluid changes. You need to be aware of the intelligence coming in from reconnaissance pilots as well as the reports from fellow pilots to avoid having EWAR gaps or inefficiencies. Ideally a fleet that is well trained should be acting with some measure of following orders but not blindly to the exclusion of all other factors. Also ideally, the fleet commander doesn't have to micromanage every aspect of the battle because if you are in a destroyer and your fleet is fighting three battleships, an interdictor and two interceptors, the fleet commander wont have to tell you to pop the fast ships. Finally, pilots in the fleet should ideally be motivated by doing the most they can to ensure that the fleet wins the fight rather than working only for killmails because they know that the covert operations ships and the ships that drove off the opponent's interceptors without ever killing one was instrumental in the death of the ships that went down.
To achieve this ideal we have to apply the principle of Threat Assessment and Prioritization (TAP). The TAP process guides all aspects of a successful fleet engagement and is used by good fleet commanders when coming up against multi-ship engagements. It is also used, often subconsciously, by solo pilots and skirmishers.
The general principle of TAP is that the goal in any fight is to reduce the threat level of the opposing force as quickly as possible. This is referred to as the Threat Level Velocity Reduction Principle. For the mathematically minded we plot the total threat level over time and determine the total velocity of threat level reduction with the idea to maximize that velocity. The quicker the velocity, the less threat there is to your fleet. Since determination of threat level is a critical aspect of the Threat Level Velocity Reduction Principle process we should address it in more detail.
The first thing to learn about threat level assessment is that there are many facets of threat level. Each opposing ship has an individual threat level as well as the fleet as a whole. What is more, there is a threat level as opposed to your gang that is different than the threat level to you as an individual pilot. To illustrate, lets consider a hypothetical situation where the opposing fleet contains four battleships and a Vagabond and your fleet contains your interceptor, 2 battleships and 4 cruisers. In this case the biggest threat to your fleet is the opposing battleships. However, the biggest threat to you in this battle is the Vagabond because of its superior ability to kill light ships. Therefore the first skill you need to master is to determine the threat level of individual ships at an instant versus your ship, also known as the personal threat level.
Personal Threat Level
The Personal Threat Level (PTL) is a measure of how dangerous the other ship is versus your ship. The danger can be either danger of getting destroyed or danger of simply being suppressed and not being able to participate in a fight. For example, if you are in a Caracal and the fleet contains a Blackbird and an Armageddon, the biggest destructive threat is the Armageddon while the biggest suppressive threat is the Blackbird. However, if you are in an interceptor than the Armageddon has an inconsequential threat level as it cannot hit your ship if you fly properly but the blackbird remains at a high threat level because he can suppress your ability to participate in the fight. Therefore, the type of ship you are in is very important to determining threat level.
Generally threat level assumes that suppressive threats are more dangerous than destructive threats. The reason is that if you are suppressed by being jammed or damped to the point where you cannot participate your fleet has essentially lost one ship and the DPS, and EWAR that goes with that ship. Other ships that can destroy your ship are dangerous, to be sure, but you still have a chance of fighting back and ganging up on the threat if you are not suppressed.
There is one exception to the general rule that suppressive threats are more dangerous than destructive ones. If an opponent's ship has a capability that totally renders your ship unable to survive or fight then it is of the most significant threat level. To illustrate we can take the example of a Huginn in a gate camp. To an interceptor, the Huginn, with its ability to web the interceptor and totally remove its ability to survive with speed tank, is the most significant threat in the entire camping fleet. In a battle the fast ships will qualify the Huginn as the most dangerous ship there. However, to your battleships the Huginn's webs are annoying and problematic but hardly the biggest issue facing them. Some ships such as the Curse, Huginn and Rapier fall into this category of enormously dangerous to lighter ships. The Curse is also very dangerous to larger ships as well.
Once you evaluate the suppressive threats, the next most important threats are those that can kill you, the faster they can kill you, the higher up on the list they are. For example, smartbombs on a battleship are a significant threat to frigate sized ships. Although they are easily avoidable, they must be high up on the list of threat assessment. By contrast, if you are in an interceptor then a cruise missile fitted Raven is mostly inconsequential. Sure, if he hits you with cruises while you are decelerating and turning, you could end up popped but if he is doing this he has already made a critical mistake in his battle plan. So while the cruise Raven must be kept in mind, its threat level is low.
Tactical Threat Level
The Tactical Threat Level (TTL) takes into consideration the threat levels of the opposing ships versus your entire force. The tactical threat level assessment combines all of the threat level assessments for the entire fleet and adds more dimensions to the issue of threat level assessment. For example, if you are the fleet commander in a Megathron battleship flying with two cruisers and 5 interceptors and you encounter a force with a Blackbird, Armageddon, Dominix, and Huginn, the personal threat level assessment for your ship will be different than the tactical threat level. Since you have so many light ships, that Huginn is the most dangerous ship to your force overall because he rates extreme on the PTL for all of your light ships. It is true that the Blackbird can get off a jam or two that affects a couple of ships but he cant jam you all and the Huginn can kill quite a few ships in the time it takes to kill the Blackbird.
On the other hand, the highest tactical threat level might be different than the aggregate threat level of all the ships in the gang. For example, if we toss in two more Blackbird cruisers into the mix of the battle, the tactical threat level has switched dramatically. Now the opponent has the ability to jam your ships and keep you from destroying that Huginn, or anything else for that matter. As a fleet commander you must eliminate the jamming ships as fast as possible to get their ability to suppress your fleet reduced. Killing one or two Blackbirds would enable the fleet commander to then kill the Huginn and polish off the rest of the fleet. The addition of the two Blackbird cruisers changed the overall tactical threat level by trumping the danger of the Huginn with the more significant danger of the whole fleet being jammed.
Tactical threat level assessments must also be considered in proportion. For example, in the case where there are two Blackbirds and a Curse amongst a fleet of 6 battleships and 4 damage cruisers and confronting your fleet of 5 battleships and 8 cruisers, the two Blackbirds may not be the highest threat level because they simply cant jam enough of you to be effective. In this case the overwhelming firepower of the opposing battleships might trump the EWAR of the Blackbirds.
Finally, in large fleets you might even have different tactical threat levels facing your fleet. If you have a fleet of 10 interceptors and 5 battleships, the tactical threat level may be different for each of these groups. This is when it becomes interesting to decide the right course of action in the battle. The actual correct course of action may be to consider the threat levels separately and act separately on the different threats.
Strategic Threat Level
The final threat level to consider is strategic. In many cases the strategic impact of a ship on the fleet will trump the tactical and personal impact. This is where it is important to have as much reconnaissance as possible. Knowing what is around your fleet is very important to determining not only the course of battle but whether or not you should even choose to engage at all. In all situations, whether or not you are in an engagement should be a choice. If you are in an engagement that is not of your choice than something has already gone wrong. When you assemble as much reconnaissance as you can, you will have that choice as well as be able to make better decisions about the course of battle.
When determining strategic threat levels, you must think about the inertia of your fleet and use that as a guiding factor in your determinations. For example, when you are in a frigate fleet, you have much less inertia and will be able to quickly disengage if the situation calls for it. The inertia of a fleet takes into account the possible speeds of the ships in the fleet, their alignment time and other agility factors. Understanding your own inertia is important to determining threat levels. Due to its low inertia, a frigate fleet allows you to go into a fight, pick off an opponent and disengage before the opponent gets reinforcements . By contrast, if you are in a battleship fleet, it is much harder to disengage and evade another force due to the increased inertia. As a general rule, the higher your inertia, the further out you need to have reconnaissance to make effective decisions about strategic threat level.
As an example of strategic threat level, consider the situation where your force has 5 battleships and 2 cruisers and you are in a fight with 3 battleships, 3 cruisers (including two blackbirds) and an interdictor. In this situation the blackbirds are clearly the highest tactical threat. However, the reality is that the interdictor is actually the highest strategic threat because the interdictor increases inertia of your fleet. A single interdictor can pin your fleet so that you can not disengage. This gives opponents the ability to call up reinforcements and change the balance of the battle.
Strategic threats are the most deadly and catch the majority of new fleet commanders unaware. However, the individual pilots in the fleet should also concern themselves with the strategic threat level because that can determine how they act as we will see later in the article. Also the original fleet commander could potentially get killed, and it might fall to you to take up the staff of leadership. If you don't know what is going on strategically you could be in big trouble. One thing to remember is that even a badly led fleet is better than a fleet that has no leadership.
Target prioritization is the process of picking out the targets to either destroy or neutralize with EWAR first, second, third and so on. As you complete your threat level assessment, which should be done in a couple of seconds at most in an optimal situation, you need to determine how to deal with the threats facing you. The natural inclination is to hit the biggest threat first but that inclination would be wrong. The correct process is to apply the Threat Level Velocity Reduction Principle.
For example, if our fleet of 10 mixed ships of all types is confronted by another fleet of 4 battleships, 1 Blackbird, 1 Celestis and a heavy interdictor, the biggest strategic threat is that heavy interdictor. However, heavy interdictors often have extremely strong tanks and while you are trying to kill it, you are geting jammed, damped and shot at. It could take you a couple of minutes to kill the heavy interdictor. In this case you should apply the Threat Level Velocity Reduction Principle and destroy the blackbird and Celestis first. Although they are each lower threat levels than the interdictor, they can be eliminated much quicker than the heavy interdictor.
Furthermore, each ship in the gang should also be applying the Threat Level Velocity Reduction Principle for the sake of his own ship. For example, consider a fight where your fleet has 4 battleships, 2 cruisers, 2 destroyers (including your destroyer) and an interdictor whereas your opponent has 3 battleships, 2 Blackbird cruisers, two interceptors and an interdictor. In this situation the fleet commander correctly identifies the two Blackbirds and highest threat and killing them will maximize his threat level reduction velocity so he calls one of the Blackbirds primary. Although the opponent's interdictor is problematic, the fleet commander has intel two systems in front and behind so he knows he is clear to engage. In this situation, your destroyer, as well as the other one and your own interdictor, should be shooting at the enemy interdictor, not the primary target of the blackbird. The reasoning is that the interdictor is the highest strategic threat and your destroyer's guns wont add appreciably to the DPS being deployed by your four battleships and 2 cruisers on the Blackbird. You achieve the maximum threat reduction velocity by blasting the interdictor and you shouldn't need orders to do it. After that you switch to killing the interceptors, again applying threat reduction velocity and knowing that your destroyer can destroy their interceptors or force them off.
EWAR ships face similar decisions. In addition to deciding the best ship to use their EWAR against (not putting a tracking disruptor on a Raven for example) they need to consider where their EWAR will have the most effect on reducing threat level as fast as possible. In the previous example, if a Blackbird on your side jams an interceptor, that is fine but the blackbird would have much more effect on threat level by jamming one of the opposing battleships. Furthermore, the effective Blackbird pilot would realize that they can take advantage of the long lock time of the battleships by not attempting to perma-jam the battleship but rather jam that ship and move on to the next (known as "cycle jamming"), multiplying jamming effect by lock time. Another Blackbird might instantly recognize the newly arrived Huginn as a massive threat to light ships due to the webs it can deploy and its fast lock time and flat permanently jam him so he can be destroyed by the light ships.
EWAR deployment for threat level reduction must also work together with other EWAR to maximize the effects of the threat level reduction. In a situation where you have 4 damps in the fleet and are facing four battleships, it might be better to put one damp on each battleship so that you multiply the effects of the cycle jamming blackbird. Similarly the pilot of the Blackbird might not even bother to jam the Armageddon in the opposing fleet because he heard on voice coms that the Armageddon has 4 tracking disruptors on it; better to let the Armageddon keep firing and hit nothing and prioritize jammers for a target which they will have more effect on. This type of coordination requires that the EWAR pilots really know their gear very well and that they communicate very well with each other and the rest of the fleet. Succinct and clear EWAR calling such as "Track on Joe" is essential to maximizing threat level reduction velocity.
With all this said, it doesn't mean that the pilots in a gang should ignore the fleet commander. It simply means that they should be thinking about the situation, not merely pressing F1 through F8 and watching TV at the same time. If you are in a ship appropriate to kill the primary target you should be firing at the primary target. For example if there are 4 damage battleships and the fleet commander calls one as primary, if you are in a battleship you should be firing at that primary. On the other hand if you have 5 light drones assisting your damage on primary and a Curse shows up, you should be ready and alert enough to toss the drones at the Curse to either kill him or drive him off. That is merely deploying your damage to its maximum effect.
One of the cardinal rules you learn in many alliances is to "never change primary target." What they mean is that once you order your gang to shoot at something, keep hitting it until it is dead. This advice is some of the worst advice in Eve.
A battle is an extremely fluid situation. It is constantly changing based upon the surviving strength of your forces, supply of cap booster charges, reconnaissance being delivered and the state of the enemy. If you aren't willing to adapt to the situation you will get destroyed by those that can. For example, if you are pounding on one of 4 surviving enemy battleships and the opponent warps in a Falcon, you should immediately switch and kill the falcon according to the threat level reduction velocity principle. Not only do you need to keep your eyes open as a fleet commander but also as a pilot in the fleet. For example, consider a situation where we have a fleet of 10 cruisers and 5 destroyers and we are shooting at one of three opposing battleships. Suddenly a Sabre (interdictor) warps into the fight. Those 10 destroyers and the cruiser with assault missile launchers should instantly change primaries without any need for direction from the fleet commander and destroy the Sabre. By the time the voice comm's lag reaches the gang asking the destroyers to switch to the Sabre, the Sabre should already be dead.
This is even more true in situations where the opponent has logistics on the field; switching targets can catch an opponent slow to broadcast, catch opposing logi not paying attention or get a kill because opposing logi are committed to cycles amd can't save a new primary (especially with an alpha fleet).
You must constantly analyze the tactical situation making adjustments as they are necessary. Adjustments might include disengaging, changing targets or changing strategies but the key is constant analysis and adaptability.
The process of Threat Level Assessment and Prioritization is possibly the most important skill you will learn in PvP. Remember to practice assessing threat levels in the blink of an eye, seek to reduce threat levels as fast as possible, and always remain adaptable to the fluid situation that is combat.