Friday, February 4, 2011

Alpha Mael: Reloaded

I’m finally getting out of Saint Louis.  I’m sitting at the airport, waiting for my flight with nothing better to do.  So I figured I’d post.
A couple of days ago I posted a description of the Alpha Mael fleet doctrine that most alliances have adopted.  Now, I’d like to go over its limitations and usability as an effective fleet doctrine.  Keep in mind that I am just a peon in the beast known as TEST Alliance.  Another brick in the wall, as it were, ready to absorb the impact of yet another TEST dummy.  Most of my ideas are either my observations, or opinions based on those observations.

Critical Mass
Because the alpha fleet doctrine is based on doing huge amounts of damage in one shot, alpha fleets require a certain “critical mass” in order to be effective.  If there aren’t enough Maelstroms in your fleet, then your combined alpha might not be enough to get through your primary’s buffer.  Therefore, you’ll have to cycle your guns and get off a second shot.  By that time, the enemy logis have already locked up your target and have repaired whatever damage you did in the initial volley.

The Alpha Fleet doctrine is based on arty Maelstroms, which means its weaponry is largely ineffective against close range, fast moving, low-sig res shiptypes.  If you’re an Amarr pilot, the first thing that should come to your head is “ahacs!!!!”  The ahac, short for armor heavy assault cruiser, fleet doctrine is designed to be effective against most long range battleship setups.  It typically consists of pulse zealots armored with a 1600mm plate and decent resists.  They use 10mn afterburners, as opposed to MWDs, in order to keep their speed up and sig radius down.  Coupled with damnations for armor gang boosts, mindlinked lokis for sig radius boosting, and guardians for logistics support, the ahac tank is extremely tough to crack.  In addition to their incredible tanking power, they have a huge punch for being fit with very few damage mods.  And as a final touch, as if they weren’t already totally awesome, they run cap stable with hardeners, an afterburner, and five heavy pulse lasers.  Ahac fleets are my favorite. 

In theory, ahacs should be the perfect counter against the long-range BS based alpha fleet model.  This theory, however, is shattered by lag.  If you’re not familiar with large scale sovereignty warfare, lag is EVE as air resistance is to the real world.  It slows everything down, drains energy, and makes theories difficult to test.  If it weren’t for air resistance, a bowling ball and a feather would both hit the ground at the same moment if dropped from the same height at the same time.  If it weren’t for lag, ahacs would dominate alpha fleets.  In the early days of the fountain war, IT put this idea to the test and called for ahacs to counter the Dekco alpha fleet poised to defend the PNQY station.  The IT ahac fleet failed miserably.  Although I can’t say for certain why it failed, it’s widely known that lag was particularly bad during the assault.  In order to be effective, ahacs have to be able to maneuver very well.  They have to be able to get into range as a group, as well as warp in and out at will.  Lag does not permit this.  In addition, module lag means that the differences in cycle time that level the dps between artillery and lasers are nullified, and large artillery ends up heavily out-dpsing pulse lasers.  In this particular instance, ahacs were not the best of choices, and IT paid dearly for their mistake.

As far as I’m aware, ahacs have not been properly tested against the alpha fleet doctrine, and they likely never will be.  The “critical mass” requirement described above means that alpha fleets are inherently large.  Large fleets mean serious lag, even on reinforced nodes.  It’s not likely that ahacs will ever have a fair shot at beating alpha fleets, and even if they do, it won’t be a fair fight because the Maelstroms probably won’t have enough in fleet to actually be effective anyway.

Alpha fleets were implemented with the intention of limiting the effectiveness of enemy logistics.  Given their popularity, what you often see on the battlefield is two alpha fleets throwing volleys at each other until one drops bellow its critical mass and is no longer effective.  Both sides often take heavy casualties, and a fully rigged and fit Maelstrom is an expensive ship to lose.  Like 240mil+ expensive.  Considering insurance, lose five or six Maelstroms, and your fleet has already lost over a billion isk.  That’s too much loss for the average Joe to support on his own, so only alliances with hefty reimbursement programs can support this kind of warfare.  Listening to the Sys-K alliance meeting, they make two points very clear: 1) no, they don’t have a reimbursement program, and 2) they want their dudes to show up in Maelstroms for the fountain war… I hope they have some serious tricks up their sleeve, because it won’t be long before their members jump ship, so to speak.

On the flipside, large, powerful alliances like IT have huge coffers (according to Molle, IT has a thousand billion isk!!!) and can spend spend spend.  Because of the heavy losses endured by both victor and vanquished in alpha battles, the richer alliance can, in theory, wage a war of attrition, hoping to eventually bleed the enemy of its resources and its will to fight.  After the loss of Z30, this is the position that IT took, and SirMolle told his alliance that he has plenty of money to spend of reimbursements and that his FCs were instructed to never call off ops for any reason.  Listening to him say this evoked images of the opening scenes of “Enemy at the Gates”, where Jude Law and his comrades are mercilessly thrust into German machine gun fire, only to be shot by their own commanders when retreating from a hopeless situation.  Thus far, Molle’s tactic has yet to be tested, as the stunning commitment of Dekco forces in the siege of 6VDT seems to have taken Molle aback, and IT seems to be less active militarily.

These are just my thoughts.  Any insight is appreciated.