It seems that in every corporation and every alliance, there is a single individual who has been given the task of configuring combat fleets.  Invariably what happens is one of two things:  a.) either the task is too complicated (usually because fleet configurations is just one of many tasks they have) or b.) They try to shoehorn an elite fleet style into their corp / alliance.. often without really taking a good assessment of what their alliance can actually do.. and pay for.

Good fleet configurations are not easy to come by.  Just because Rooks and Kings can make a particular fleet set up work, doesn’t me your alliance can.  Alliance discipline, number of skilled players, player isk sizes, and many other variables often mean the difference fielding a successful fleet configuration or just being cannon fodder.  In addition, morale and the number of active players at any given time can really be a difficult problem to developing a solid foundation upon which to build a successful fleet doctrine.

So, how does one do that?  Well, first it is necessary to ask yourself some very serious, often painful, questions.  These questions also have to be paired with a realistic view of what you plan on doing.  Thus, we can best align both of these within a Tiered system format:

TIER ONE – Armor or Shields

This may seem like a silly thing to start with, but it is the lowest common denominator for all your pilots.  It is here that you start deciding how your fleet should think, feel, and operate.  Both have their strengths and both have their weaknesses, which are crucial to your fleet composition’s success.  Here are some questions you need to ask at this tier:

  • What ships have the majority of our people trained for?  Are they Caldari?  Are they racial ships that typically use armor?
  • What is the percentage of shield versus armor players in our organization as a whole?  how about amoung our most active players?
  • Does our environment support armor or shield tanking more than the other?  Are Meta 4 tanking modules easy to get for armor.. or for shields?

Armor fleets have an advantage usually in resistances and better fitting requirements, whereas they sacrifice speed and agility.  Shield fleets have the advantage to both speed and agility, and can recharge their damage too.. but that is at the cost of being a much easier target to hit.  Personally, unless you have a 70/30 or greater percentage that can fly armor ships, going with Shield configurations would be your best option.  Both Gallente and Amarr have ships, particular battlecruisers, that have effective shield tanking configurations.  This may not make some of your guys happy, but having a cohesive tanking doctrine will make it much easier to develop tactics and as well as escape solutions when things fall down.  It also makes it easier for new FCs to step up, and take responsibility because everything has already been pre-defined and the new FC won’t need to spend as much time trying to get a certain balance.

TIER TWO – What can you afford to lose?

If you are serious about developing a good PVP fleet doctrine, the first step needs to be understanding what your members can lose, reasonably, each week.  I would say the very minimum that you need to achieve is one battlecruiser loss per person, per week.  If most of your players cannot take a loss like that, then you need to take a look at how your members are funding themselves because that loss can be made up in one level 4 mission.  This Tier also forces you to understand how many are casual players and how many are more hardcore, and of those, how many of these you can regularly rely on and when.  The questions you should be asking:

  • How many active veteran players do I have?  How does that compare to newer players?
  • Do our members make isk through corp operations, or do they make isk independantly?
  • How heavy is our taxation?
  • Are we willing to get rid of newer members to build a more specialized fleet?

Another important thing to think about is that you don’t want to start off with fleets that are expensive.  It is true that a Tech 2 HAC fleet can be brutal to fight against, and that is a good end goal, but wiping a fleet of Tech 2 HACs can really put a damper on morale, particularly if those pilots weren’t confident in the FC, the tactics, or their ships capabilities.  Starting off with battlecruisers is a pretty good idea because both Tier 2 and Tier 3 battlecruisers are pretty inexpensive to buy and outfit, plus they punch above their class.  They tend to be reasonably fast, can hold out for a fair bit in a fight, and allow you considerable versatility for your members.  If, for example, you plan to have a “shield-only” fleet, The Gallente Brutix, Myrmadon, and Talos, along with the Amarr Harbinger and Oracle, have effective shield tank configurations that you can use.

TIER THREE – How do you plan to expand?

While battlecruiser fleets are a good starting point, the more skilled your fleet members get, the more options you can look into.  However, having your members mindlessly explore different ships can leave you having to stay with battlecruiser fleets and really minimizing any new potential, and this really will start to drain on your more skilled members.  This is about the time when you have to think about how long your corp is going to be around, and where you as an organization are going to be six months, a year or more, down the road.  So, the questions you need to ask yourself are:

  • What fleets can we reasonably achieve now?  In six months?  In a year?
  • What are the goals of the corporation?  What are the driving forces behind those goals?
  • Are we going to stay in the same location?  Or are we planning on moving?
  • Are we going to train to round our corporation out to be more self-sufficient?  Or are we going to train to make us more appealing to a better alliance?  Or do we train in conjunction with our allies, to cover each other’s deficiencies?

Much of this should already be in your alliance and corporate directors’ minds, but at this point, it needs to be clear down to each individual member.  The newest members need to be able to recite the overall plans and goals of the corp/alliance without difficulty.  In that way, you have already laid the foundation for future success for several goals, including the structure of the Fleet as well as who leads it, and how it is formed.

Tier Four – Capitals, when and how

The simple reality is that all alliances need to develop a plan for using, and more importantly, replacing Capital ships used in fleet operations.  It also isn’t a bad idea for corporations to at least develop their own capital doctrine as well.  Capitals are the new reality for low-sec and null-sec life.  I remember a time when, if you had a capital fleet, you were someone not to be messed with.  Now, supercapitals have become the new de facto standard for null-sec life.. and CCP still hasn’t dealt with the problem of their production and use.  So, the questions you need to ask are:

  • Do we really need capitals yet?
  • Do we have a minimum skill requirement for capital ship pilots?  How about solid fleet fits?
  • Do we have a replacement plan or some sort of compensation for pilots who lose capital ships on our operations?
  • Do we have a solid understanding of using capital ships?
  • How disciplined/stupid are our capital ship owners?
  • Do we have a working capital fleet plan?

Capital ships like Dreadnaughts and Carriers have recently increased in price, likely because of the decreased supply of minerals now that CCP is becoming more active in bot control.  Because of this, they are much more difficult for individual members to replace, either because of normal combat operations or player stupidity that means there is one less capital ship that you can use when you actually are going to need it.  But, if you don’t have a REASON to risk a capital ship, you aren’t likely to get a decent capital fleet in the first place.  The Goals you make and stick to from Tier Three, will at least give you some idea as to how and when you need to use capitals, and more importantly, when not to.