Drone mechanics

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This article details the use and various applications of drones. For an overview of the different types of drones, see Drones.

Most of the information here will be useful for anyone who uses drones. The sections on PvP and PvE combat each have a subsection devoted to the use of dedicated drone boats (ships with large drone bays and hull bonuses to drone damage, hitpoints and/or dronebay space).

Contents

Drone control

Commands

You can give the following commands to your drones. Each drone type has a few "primary commands", which relate to its function:

  • Engage: Orders your drone(s) to engage (attack, repair, jam, etc) the target you have currently locked. They will fly to your target, attempt to orbit it and engage it. Note that your drones will engage whatever you order them to do so, including your other drones or your fleetmates (which can easily happen by accident if you fly logistics and combat drones at the same time).
  • Assist: If you give this command your drones will assist a member of your fleet, and will engage whatever target they are attacking. This can useful for concentrating your fire while in a fleet (in Incursions, this is referred to as a "dronebunny"), or to make sure your drones attack as quickly as possible in PvP (by ordering your drones to assist a fleetmat with a fast-locking ship). Note that your fleet member can't control your drones directly, and you remain responsible for any targets your drones attack (for instance, if your fleet member attacks a neutral target in high-sec, CONCORD will destroy both of your ships).
  • Guard: Similar to the "Assist" command, except that your drones will engage whatever ships attacks the fleet member you order your drones to guard.
  • Mine and Mine Repeatedly: Orders your mining drone(s) to mine the asteroid you have targeted for one cycle (60 seconds), then return to your ship, drop the mined ore off in your cargo or ore bay. If you give the "Mine" command, your drones will do this once and then orbit your ship to await further instructions; if you give the "Mine Repeatedly" command, they will immediately return to the asteroid after they have dropped off their ore at your ship and will continue mining. Unless you are micromanaging your drones, you should always use the "Mine Repeatedly" command.
  • Salvage: Orders your salvage drone(s) to salvage the wreck you have targeted; if you give this command without anything targeted, your salvage drones will automatically salvage every wreck belonging to you within your drone control range. To salvage wrecks belonging to other players (coloured yellow on the overview), you need to manually target them and give the "Salvage" command.

Additionally, you can give any drones these generic commands:

  • Launch: Launch the selected drone(s) from your drone bay into space.
  • Return and Orbit: Order your drone(s) to fly back to your ship and orbit it, awaiting further commands.
  • Abandon Drone: Abandons your drones in space. While normally you would want to order your drones to return to your drone bay, in some situations (particularly PvP) this can take too long, and you may want to abandon your current drones in order to launch a different drone type which is better suited to engaging your current enemy.
  • Return to Drone Bay: Order your drone(s) in space to fly back to your ship and land in your ship's drone bay.
  • Scoop to Drone Bay: If your drone has become disabled in space (i.e. is no longer responding to commands), you can fly your ship to it and, once your are nearby (2500m), scoop the drone into your ship's drone bay. You can also scoop up drones abandoned by other players (if e.g. their ship was destroyed, or they warped off without docking their drones).
  • Scoop to Cargo Bay: Similar to the "Scoop to Drone Bay" command, but scoops the drone to your cargo bay instead of your drone bay. This is useful if your drone bay is already full.

You can give a drone commands either by right-clicking it, selecting it in the overview and using the overview buttons, or by using a radial menu (by long-clicking). Additionally, you can use hotkeys for some of these commands - learning these is a very good idea for drone ship pilots. Lastly, you can give "launch" and "return to drone bay" commands by dragging drones in the drone control window between the "drones in bay" to the "drones in space" sections.

Once you give a command to your drones, they start carrying it out in the next server tick. In practice, this means that your drones may take 1-2 seconds to respond after you give a command.

Drone behavior settings

Modify drone behavior.

You can modify your drones' default behavior through the drone control window.

Passive

Your drones will not automatically attack hostile ships in this mode, but will stay in orbit around your ship until given a specific command. This is the default mode, and it's recommended to keep your drones in this mode for PvE (particularly when running missions, as you want to control which rats you aggro) and for most PvP.

Aggressive

Your drones will automatically attack any entity (ship, sentry gun...) which attacks your ship. If you don't order them to attack a specific target, they will pick one at random (using the same logic as auto-targeting missiles). Note that they will only react to hostiles which begin attacking you after the drones were launched - if a ship begins attacking you before you launch your drones, you would need to manually command them to attack.

This mode can be useful if you are being jammed, as it gives you a chance to attack something at least. However, as your drones are fairly dumb in their target selection, in almost every other situation you want to command your drones manually. Additionally, this mode can be a liability when running missions, as your drones may inadvertently attack trigger NPCs, causing you to become overwhelmed with rats.

Focus fire

If you tick this box, then all your drones in space will attack a single target (particularly if they are choosing their own targets in "Aggressive" mode). There is nearly no situation in which this box should not be checked.

Attack and follow

This option applies to fighter and fighter-bomber drones (used by capital ships) only. As these drones have built-in warp drives, they can follow your targets even if they warp away - if you want to prevent this (and keep your drones with you), uncheck the box. Disabling the "attack and follow" setting is a good idea if you suspect that your target may warp to a POS - if your fighter drones follow, they will likely be destroyed by the POS' defences.

Drone control range

Your drones can attack/repair/mine anything within your drone control range. Once you've ordered them to attack a target, your drones will pursue that target anywhere within your drone control range, whether or not you continue to have that target locked. If the target leaves your drone control range, your drones will start to travel back towards you. However, they will not use their microwarpdrives (MWDs), so they will do this very slowly - to get them moving properly again you should manually order them to return and orbit or return and scoop, or give them a new target.

Most drone combat occurs within about 50km of your ship, as for longer-range combat your drones' travel time becomes a major drawback. Therefore, a moderate investment in control range increasing skills is enough for most drone pilots. However, once you start using sentry drones, you will want to increase your drone control range as much as possible, as sentry drones still need their target to be within your drone control range before they can open fire, and the long-range sentry drones (Caldari and Minmatar models) have very long effective weapon ranges.

Abandoned drones

If you warp away while your drones are in space, if your ship is destroyed, or if you give the "abandon" command, your drones will become inactive and remain stationary in space. At this point, anyone can recover them (by flying to them and using the "scoop to drone bay" or "scoop to cargo bay" command). You can also reconnect with any drones which you have personally abandoned by right-clicking on your ship (or the capacitor on your HUD) and selecting "reconnect to lost drones"; this works as long as the drones are nearby, on the same grid. It's not possible to use a tractor beam on abandoned drones.

If you've warped away without recalling your drones, but cannot directly return to the location (e.g. if you left your drones in a mission deadspace pocket, but you completed the mission, and therefore no longer have the bookmark for the location), you can scan down your lost drones using combat probes.

Grouping

Add drones to a group through the right-click menu.

Drones can be grouped through the drone control window. This makes controlling drones simpler, as you can give a command to the entire group (as opposed to having to command each drone individually). To move a drone in or out of a group, right-click on the drone, or drag it in or out of the group. Create groups of drones which you intend to launch and use together; usually, this means groups of five identical drones, but in some cases you may want to create groups with a mix of drones (for instance, a group of two heavy, two medium, and a light drone to make the most of a Vexor's 75 Mbit/s bandwidth). You can delete unused drone groups by right-clicking on "Drones in space" header in your drone control window and selecting "Delete group".

Damaged drones

Two damaged drones. The first drone has only taken shield damage, while the second drone has taken both shield and armor damage.

Your drones can take shield, armor, and structure damage during a fight (just like your ship). Their shields will regenerate slowly, whether the drone is in space or in your drone bay (at the same rate), but armor and hull damage needs to be repaired. When in combat with drones, keep an eye on your drone's health through the drone control window, and when a drone starts taking armor damage, recall it to your drone bay and launch a fresh drone (if you have spares) - it's much cheaper to repair drones than to replace them (particularly for expensive Tech 2 drones). Unfortunately, you can only see the health of your drones when they're in space, not when they're in your drone bay.

You can easily repair all damaged drones if you dock at a station with repair facilities, at the cost of some ISK. Also, they get repaired automatically, without any cost (for free), while your ship is tethered to a Citadel.

If you don't have access to a station, you can repair drones in space by using remote armor and hull repair modules, or by using logistics drones. If you plan on being away from stations for a while, it may be a good idea to carry small armor and hull repair modules with you, and fit these modules to your ship (using a mobile depot) in between combat encounters to repair your drones. Light armor and hull logistics drones are also an option if you have space in your drone bay, but keep in mind that they repair very slowly - a single light armor repair drone takes about 3 minutes to fully repair a damaged heavy drone, while a small remote armor repair module can do it in about 30 seconds.

Drone-centric factions

Certain factions' ships are particularly focused on drones. Whilst ships from the other factions can use drones too, they tend to be relegated to a much more supporting role.

Empire factions
Gallente Federation The Gallente have some of the most powerful drone-using ships among the empire factions; nearly all their combat ships can field drones, with generous drone bays and bandwidths. About half of their ships are heavily focused on drone use, with bonuses to drone damage, hit points, range, tracking speed, and speed.
Amarr Empire The Amarr are the other drone-using empire faction, although they are less focused on them than the Gallente. They tend to have somewhat lower drone bandwidths than the Gallente, but with large drone bays, allowing them to carry a wide variety of drones into combat.
Pirate factions
Guristas The Guristas have a very particular way of using drones: their ships can field only two drones of the appropriate size at a time, but each drone is many times stronger than normal. While their drones' total damage output remains comparable to other top-tier drone boats, their drones are much individually much tougher, which particularly gives them an edge in PvP.
Sisters of EVE The Sisters of EVE ships have high drone bandwidths and truly enormous drone bays (even larger than the Gallente), as well as bonuses to drone damage and hit points.

Drones in PvE

General Use

Even if you never fly a dedicated droneboat, if you run missions or tackle exploration sites you will want to use drones. Why? As you begin to fly medium and large ships, frigate-sized NPC enemies become increasingly hard to kill. It may sometimes be impossible to kill them using medium-sized weapons (let alone large ones!) once they settle into a close orbit around you.

To compound the problem, in tougher exploration sites and level 3 and 4 missions frigates can be the most dangerous enemies, because they can warp-scramble and/or web you; certainly, bigger ships will deal more damage to you, but you can always run away from them, while scrambling frigates can hold you down and let their allies kill you.

For this reason, it's a good idea to be able to field at least a full flight of five light drones when you begin to attempt level 3 missions. Even if you're flying a battlecruiser with a 50m3 drone bay for level 3 missions, it may be wise to bring five light drones rather than five mediums, to deal with the frigate problem.

Standard level 4 mission-running battleship fits include a flight of light drones. Most battleships also have the dronebay space to bring at least a flight of medium drones as well, which will help you deal with NPC cruisers and battlecruisers. At this point it's good to have Tech 2 light and medium drones, as they are considerably superior to Tech 1 drones.

If you're flying a battleship with a reasonable drone bay and decent support skills, such that your primary weapons can kill cruisers reasonably fast (e.g. a Raven Navy Issue - which has a 100m3 drone bay - fitted with rigor rigs, for example), you may also want to consider bringing a flight of light drones and three sentry/heavy drones. The sentries or heavies can do some DPS to cruiser targets (sentries work quite well on them when their angular velocity is low) and can augment your DPS against battlecruisers and battleships. This will entail extra skill training, unless you've trained sentries or heavies for some other purpose.

NPCs targeting drones

Rats will generally attack the biggest threat they see, and prefer to go after similar-sized targets. Therefore, frigate rats may attack your light drones and above, cruiser rats may attack your medium drones and above, and battleship rats may attack your heavy/sentry drones. In particular, elite rats (see NPC Naming Convention) have a higher probability of attacking your drones. At the extreme end, Sleeper NPC are very fond of attacking drones, so much so that solo drone boats are very difficult to use in wormhole PvE.

Therefore, in order to minimise your drone losses, keep an eye on their health - if they start taking damage, order them back to your drone bay (which will cause the rats to target something else, usually your ship). Also, using your ship's weapons on the rats attacking your drones may divert their attention (your ship can take much more punishment than your drones can!). For this reason, avoid ordering your (non-sentry) drones to attack distant targets - if your drones start to take damage, they likely won't have time to fly back to your ship and dock before being destroyed.

Drones as a primary weapon

Dedicated droneboats can be very effective in PvE, assuming you have good support skills. Using drones lets you control the type of damage you're doing, and can free up space on your ship for salvaging (or other utility modules). If you do fit weapons in the high slots, on some droneboat hulls with no on-board weapon bonuses (such as the Myrmidon or Arbitrator) fitting non-racial turrets can be a viable option. Projectile turrets are a popular choice since they use no capacitor energy to fire and let you control which type of damage you deal. The downside is that you will likely need some additional skill training in order to use these weapons effectively.

Sentry vs Heavy drones

When you start attempting level 4 missions or tougher combat sites, you will have to initially choose between using sentry drones and heavy attack drones for your main anti-battleship weapon (as their skill prerequisites are somewhat different, and training either kind to Tech 2 takes some time). If/when you have trained for both kinds of drone you will be able to pack both and use whichever suits your situation.

Heavy drones:

  • Can move around - unlike sentry drones, you can deploy heavies and then begin moving to the next acceleration gate.
  • Tech 2 heavy drones do slightly more damage than their racially equivalent sentry drone.

Sentry drones:

  • Don't have any travel time delay:
    • They can open fire as soon as they're launched, and can switch targets instantly.
    • You can also immediately recall them if you need to run away or to launch a different set of drones (eg light drones to kill a scrambling frigate which managed to get close to you).
  • Can kill smaller (frigate/cruiser) NPCs, as long as they are relatively far away (and therefore have low angular velocity).
  • Can have their DPS directly enhanced with Sentry Damage Augmentor rigs (there is no equivalent rig for heavy drones).

For most PvE activities, sentry drones are better than heavy drones. Their long range allows them to kill many rats before they get close enough to be dangerous to you, and heavy drones' travel time largely negates their on-paper DPS advantage. The two major downsides to using sentry drones is that they become less effective the closer the rats get to you, and that your (fairly stationary) ship is vulnerable to NPCs with long-range weapons.

Drone brawling

Drone brawling means using light, medium and heavy drones, and flying your ship at close range to the enemies (often at high speed).

Ship fitting

Primarily, your ship should have a powerful regenerating tank appropriate for the mission. While not strictly necessary, a Damage Control II is highly recommended, and rigs should be used to strengthen your tank. Drone Damage Amplifiers are essential to increase drone DPS, and a Drone Navigation Computer will help your slow heavy drones to catch faster enemies (a Stasis Webifier module can also come in handy for that). A propulsion module (Afterburner or MWD) is almost mandatory for cruiser-sized ships (especially Heavy Assault Cruisers or pirate faction cruisers), assuming they can run an afterburner indefinitely (i.e. being essentially cap stable), as it decreases the chance to be hit by the large weapons on NPC battleships (this is known as "speed tanking"). Weapons are usually fit last, using whatever CPU and powergrid are left over.

Tactics

As with all drone PvE, try to stay close to your drones to be able to recall them quickly once they start taking damage. This means you will probably be orbiting enemy ships somewhat below your gun's optimal range. To get into brawling range, use your propulsion module to get close - or, if you have the space in your drone bay, deploy sentry drones to pick off NPCs as they fly towards you, and switch to medium or heavy drones when they get close.

Generally, it is advisable to eliminate small ships first, as they can scram and web you or your drones. Being webbed is very bad for drones, as they will take damage fast while taking much longer to return your ship. Sentry drones may also come in handy for dealing with some of the longer-ranged NPC battleships.

Drone sniping

Drone sniping means using sentry drones to destroy enemies at long range (often outside the effective range of their weapons). Thus, tanking is less of an issue as with brawling, though Tech 2 modules are still required in level 3 and 4 missions. On the other hand, good skills to increase locking range, drone control range, drone optimal range and drone damage are required.

Ship fitting

While a sniping drone ships tends to have a weaker tank than a brawling ship, some tank is still necessary for occasions when enemy ships come into range (again, a Damage Control II is rarely a bad idea). It's essential to be able to target and hit NPCs at long ranges, so fit Omnidirectional Tracking Links (Omnidirectional Tracking Enhancers can be used if you have no mid-slots free, but the Links are better, as they can use scripts), Drone Link Augmentors, and (if needed) a Sensor Booster with a Targeting Range script.

Micro Jump Drives (MJDs) are fantastic on sniping battleships; smaller ships should fit propulsion modules (afterburners/microwarpdrives) to get enough range (if you have the space, an afterburner on a MJD-fit battleship will make travelling around the mission sites a lot more painless). The remaining high slots can be fit either with long-range weapons to increase overall DPS at sniping ranges, or with short-range turrets (even of smaller size) to deal with fast NPCs ships which manage to get close.

In addition to your sentry drones, carry at least a flight of light drones (and, if you can, a flight of medium drones) to take out smaller enemies close in. For ships with large drone bays, it can be a good idea to carry one set of long-range, low-damage, and one set or short-range, high-damage sentry drones, to be swapped as the enemies approach.

Tactics

As the name suggests, you want to stay as far away as possible from enemy ships, in order to give your sentry drones as much time as possible to pick enemies off as they fly towards you (in a nice, easy-to-hit straight line). Micro Jump Drives are fantastic for this, as they instantly jump you to 100km away, into an excellent location for sniping; cruisers will want to use their propulsion modules to pull away from enemies. Unless you are fighting enemies in a deadspace pocket, you can also use the "warp to XX km" command to land at a distance from the NPCs.

Once you're at range, stop your ship, then deploy sentry drones, and order them to attack. This way you can stay close to your drones and pull them back into your drone bay if they start taking damage. You will generally want to shoot the closest and fastest ships first; assuming they are not too close, frigates will evaporate under your drones' fire, and cruisers won't last more than three or four shots. If enemy ships come too close (keep an eye on your combat readout and note when your sentry drones start missing most of the time), recall your drones, and use your propulsion module/MJD to regain range from enemy ships. Actively manage the scripts in your Omnidirectional Tracking Links: note your drones' optimal weapon ranges when using different combinations of range and tracking scripts, and swap scripts according to how far away the enemies are.

If you're flying a cruiser you can orbit your sentry drones to mitigate a little of the incoming damage (if you're moving you will have at least a little angular velocity); for battleships, orbiting makes very little difference, so that you can just sit still while your sentry drones are in space.

Recommended ships

See also: Drone Capable Ships

The following ships are good choices as droneboats for high-level PvE content (level 4 missions, low- and nullsec combat sites):

Race Ship Description
Amarr Empire Armageddon.jpg The Armageddon battleship is a reasonably cheap PvE ship with a very tough tank, which makes it a good brawler.
Gallente Federation Vexor Navy Issue.jpg The Vexor Navy Issue is a fast cruiser which can deal out significant damage at long range (almost as much as an Ishtar or a Dominix), but with a fairly weak cruiser-sized tank.
Gallente Federation Ishtar.jpg The Ishtar heavy assault cruiser is probably the most powerful cruiser-sized drone ship in the game. It has powerful bonuses for both brawling and sniping and a very large drone bay, making for a very versatile ship.
Gallente Federation Dominix.jpg The Dominix is a versatile battleship which, while geared more for sniping, also makes for a competent drone brawler.
Gallente Federation Dominix Navy Issue.jpg The Dominix Navy Issue is the faction variant of the Dominix, with a tougher tank and more brawling-oriented bonuses.
Guristas Gila.jpg The Gila is a tough and powerful drone brawling cruiser. Its two medium drones do as much damage as twelve flown by other ships, while being three times as tough as heavy drones.
Guristas Rattlesnake.jpg The Rattlesnake is one of the best PvE drone battleships (although it can be expensive). It marries powerful heavy or sentry drones with a versatile missile system and a best-in-class tank. Therefore, it can be used as a long-range sniper with sentry drones, cruise missiles and a MJD, or a brawler with heavy drones and torpedoes.
Sisters of EVE Nestor.jpg The Nestor battleship can put out tremendous damage with its combination of drones and lasers, while needing to carry virtually no ammunition. It is, however, a very expensive ship (over 1B ISK for the hull alone).

Drone choice

Depending on the difficulty of the PvE encounter, you will want to bring:

  • Level 1 and 2 missions: light drones
  • Level 3 missions: medium and light drones
  • Level 4 missions: heavy or sentry drones, and light drones

Rats from each of the pirate factions in EVE are vulnerable to different damage types. There are drones from all four empire factions available to you; not only does each faction's drones do a different damage type, but they also have different stats (e.g. Gallente drones do a lot of damage but are slow, while Minmatar drones are fast but do less damage). The table below summarises which faction's drones are most effective[ref 1] against which NPC enemies:

Faction Light/Med/Heavy drones Sentry drones
Best Alternative Best Alternative
Angel Cartel Logo faction caldari state.png
Damage: Kinetic damage
Hornet.png
Hornet (light)
Vespa.png
Vespa (medium)
Wasp.png
Wasp (heavy)
Logo faction minmatar republic.png
Damage: Explosive damage
Warrior.png
Warrior (light)
Valkyrie.png
Valkyrie (medium)
Berserker.png
Berserker (heavy)
[1]
Logo faction minmatar republic.png
Damage: Explosive damage
Bouncer.png
Bouncer (sentry)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Garde.png
Garde (sentry)
Blood Raiders Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Hobgoblin.png
Hobgoblin (light)
Hammerhead.png
Hammerhead (medium)
Ogre.png
Ogre (heavy)
Logo faction amarr empire.png
Damage: EM damage
Acolyte.png
Acolyte (light)
Infiltrator.png
Infiltrator (medium)
Praetor.png
Praetor (heavy)
[1]
Logo faction amarr empire.png
Damage: EM damage
Curator.png
Curator (sentry)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Garde.png
Garde (sentry)
Guristas Logo faction caldari state.png
Damage: Kinetic damage
Hornet.png
Hornet (light)
Vespa.png
Vespa (medium)
Wasp.png
Wasp (heavy)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Hobgoblin.png
Hobgoblin (light)
Hammerhead.png
Hammerhead (medium)
Ogre.png
Ogre (heavy)
Logo faction caldari state.png
Damage: Kinetic damage
Warden.png
Warden (sentry)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Garde.png
Garde (sentry)
[2]
Mordu's Legion Logo faction caldari state.png
Damage: Kinetic damage
Hornet.png
Hornet (light)
Vespa.png
Vespa (medium)
Wasp.png
Wasp (heavy)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Hobgoblin.png
Hobgoblin (light)
Hammerhead.png
Hammerhead (medium)
Ogre.png
Ogre (heavy)
Logo faction caldari state.png
Damage: Kinetic damage
Warden.png
Warden (sentry)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Garde.png
Garde (sentry)
[3]
Rogue Drones Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Hobgoblin.png
Hobgoblin (light)
Hammerhead.png
Hammerhead (medium)
Ogre.png
Ogre (heavy)
Logo faction amarr empire.png
Damage: EM damage
Acolyte.png
Acolyte (light)
Infiltrator.png
Infiltrator (medium)
Praetor.png
Praetor (heavy)
Logo faction amarr empire.png
Damage: EM damage
Curator.png
Curator (sentry)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Garde.png
Garde (sentry)
Serpentis Logo faction caldari state.png
Damage: Kinetic damage
Hornet.png
Hornet (light)
Vespa.png
Vespa (medium)
Wasp.png
Wasp (heavy)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Hobgoblin.png
Hobgoblin (light)
Hammerhead.png
Hammerhead (medium)
Ogre.png
Ogre (heavy)
Logo faction caldari state.png
Damage: Kinetic damage
Warden.png
Warden (sentry)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Garde.png
Garde (sentry)
[2]
Sansha's Nation[4] Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Hobgoblin.png
Hobgoblin (light)
Hammerhead.png
Hammerhead (medium)
Ogre.png
Ogre (heavy)
Logo faction amarr empire.png
Damage: EM damage
Acolyte.png
Acolyte (light)
Infiltrator.png
Infiltrator (medium)
Praetor.png
Praetor (heavy)
[1]
Logo faction amarr empire.png
Damage: EM damage
Curator.png
Curator (sentry)
Logo faction gallente federation.png
Damage: Thermal damage
Garde.png
Garde (sentry)
Mouse over the faction icons to see drone names.
  1. ^ a b c This drone family has a slight edge when fighting NPC battleships or elite cruisers.
  2. ^ a b While Gallente drones do a bit more damage (about 10% more), it's more effective to use much longer-ranged sentry drones to pick off NPCs as they approach, and only switch to Gallente when they come close.
  3. ^ While Gallente drones are more effective against smaller Mordu's Legion ship (cruisers and below), Caldari drones are much more effective against battleships (Gallente drones perform very poorly against Mordu's battleships), and their longer range allows you to pick off enemies as they approach.
  4. ^ This only refers to the Sansha's Nation NPCs found in missions, anomalies, and belts. Sansha's Nation ships in Incursions have different characteristics.

Salvage drones

For high-level PvE content, salvaging the wrecks of the rats you destroy can increase the amount of ISK you make. Salvage drones - particularly when combined with a Mobile Tractor Unit (MTU) to loot the wrecks - are a very convenient way to do this, as they require next to no attention from you. When you arrive in a mission pocket, deploy your MTU and engage the rats (don't worry, they will not attack your MTU). As you destroy the rats, the MTU will tractor in their wrecks and loot them. Once you have destroyed all the rats, deploy your salvage drones, and set them to salvage automatically (don't target anything and give the "Salvage" command). Since the MTU pulled all the wrecks into a nice tight cluster, your (very slow) salvage drones won't need to fly far. In the meantime, you can sit back, relax, and watch your drones work.

Keep in mind, however, that whilst this method is very comfortable and effortless, it's not particularly efficient - a purpose-built salvaging ship (e.g. a Destroyer or a Noctis) will loot and salvage wrecks much faster than your salvage drones and MTU will.

Mining drones

For tips on using mining drones, see the ORE ship guide.

Drones in PvP

As with PvE, drones are an essential part of PvP for almost everyone: very few PvP pilots can get away without training drone skills and learning how to use them. This section discusses the selection and use of normal damage-dealing drones for general PvP, the pros and cons of using electronic warfare and logistics drones, and finally the use of dedicated droneboats in PvP.

Drone choice

The simplest PvP use of the dronebay on most ships is as a source of extra DPS. Even when flying ships with only 5m3 of space, like the Incursus or Cruor, having a light scout drone's additional DPS can't hurt.

Some ships have bandwidth and dronebays which let you choose between having a full flight of drones, or a smaller number of larger drones; usually the option of a full flight offers more DPS. The Rupture, for example, could field five light scout drones with one spare, three medium drones, or four lights and one medium - four lights and one medium offer the most DPS, and five lights will outdamage three mediums. Light drones will also reach their targets faster and will damage frigate targets more.

That last point leads us to a slightly subtler use of drones in PvP: as a source of precise DPS. A flight of light drones can be an important part of a medium or large ship's defence against frigates. In a large, mixed fleet this is less important, as your own frigates will (you hope) be able to defend you, but in a small gang or solo situation it can be wise to bring a flight of light drones even if you have the dronebay to bring a full flight of mediums (50m3 dronebay ships like the Thorax and Brutix are good examples of ships where this might apply).

A small number of battleships (the Hyperion, Armageddon Navy Issue, and the Vindicator) don't have any drone bonuses but still have the bandwidth and dronebay to field a full flight of heavy or sentry drones for a significant DPS boost. Additional dronebay space can be used to bring one or two extra flights of drones (a flight of light drones and a flight of light ECM drones, for example). In general, larger dronebays allows you the flexibility to bring multiple drone types, to best engage different enemy types. Alternatively, spare dronebay space can be used to bring EWAR or logistics drones (see below).

Sentry drones can offer interesting tactical possibilities in PvP, such as deploying sentry drones and then moving away from them, forcing your opponent to choose between shooting your drones and chasing you. Additionally, they are very useful for attacking structures (as they need no ammunition). While it's possible to snipe distant targets with sentry drones, it's often difficult to attain the mobility necessary in fleets.

Drone faction choice

Drone choice for dedicated PvP drone boats depends on what targets you intend to fight (again, ships with large dronebays have more flexibility in choosing what drones to use).

  • Minmatar and Amarr drones are used for their high speed (which make them apply their damage better to fast enemy ships), and for their explosive and EM damage which target the natural weaknesses of armor and shield-tanked ships, respectively.
  • Gallente and Caldari drones are used for their somewhat higher damage, and because they are about equally effective against both shield and armor tanks.

EWAR and combat utility drones

As a general rule, EWAR and combat utility drones are not particularly useful. As they are subject to stacking penalties, the third or fourth drone has very little additional benefit. Additionally, their abilities cannot be enhanced with skills or modules - so they are fairly underwhelming compared with module-based EWAR. As a rule of thumb, you need a full flight of medium EWAR/combat utility drones to match the same effects as a single tech 2 module (assuming average support skills), and those 50Mbit/s of bandwidth is usually better used for combat drones.

The one exception to this rule are ECM drones, as they are not subject to stacking penalties. While each ECM drone on its own is not particularly powerful, a full flight of them is surprisingly effective, particularly against small- and medium-sized ships with lower sensor strengths. You can use them to reduce the DPS you take over the course of a fight, or to give you an opportunity to escape by jamming enemy tackling ships; they are particularly effective in solo and small gangs.

Logistics Drones

Logistics drones can be useful, but can't really replace dedicated logistics cruisers. A single flight won't be able to keep up with large amounts of damage, so to really be effective every gang member would need to bring them (at the cost of lost dps, as they could have brought combat drones instead). Additionally, they react more sluggishly than repair modules, as they first need to travel to their target in order to repair it.

For dedicated logistics ships, logistics drones can be a useful little extra, for instance to keep lower-priority fleet members (e.g. other logistics ships) "topped up" while the pilot concentrates on the fleet members taking the most damage.

In small gangs without dedicated logistics ships, you can bring a few armor and hull repair drones if you have spare dronebay space. After a fight, you can use these to repair your surviving fleetmates - especially if they are flying smaller ships, which even drones can repair quickly outside combat.

Tactics

The most reliable way to use combat drones in PvP is to tell them to attack your primary target. However, because they can move independently and (usually) faster than you, they can also be quite useful for chasing weak but dangerous enemies away. Some ships, such as most of the force recon cruisers and stealth bombers, like to circle around the edge of a fight applying ewar and/or DPS without coming in to close engagement range with their enemy. If you notice one of these ships hanging around within your drone control range, it can be productive to send your drones after them because:

  • Your drones are probably faster than you, and should be able to catch these ships
  • EWAR, which some force recons use to defend themselves, doesn't work very well against a flight of drones
  • Once your drones have locked on to a stealth bomber or force recon, it can no longer cloak even if it jams or sensor damps your own ship's targeting
  • By forcing a bomber or recon off the field, you can remove a lot of potential DPS or EWAR power

Other good targets for drones include:

  • Frigate-sized tacklers who are pinning down key members of your gang
  • Other drones, if your gang is mostly in small ships which will be threatened more by enemy drones than by their primary weapons, or if the enemy gang is using ships with drone bonuses
  • Fighters or fighter-bombers, if the enemy is deploying capital ships.

The biggest threat to drones from large ships are smartbombs, which can wipe out most drones within its range in a few cycles (light drones tend to die in just one cycle!). If you're flying in a fleet, and you see an enemy ship using smartbombs, pull back your drones as soon as possible, and (depending on your fleet communication rules) let your fellow drone pilots know.

Since most drone types are effective only against certain ship types, you may need to switch drone flights (by recalling them to your drone bay and launching a new flight) in the middle of a fight. However, this can take valuable time (especially for the slower heavy drones), and sometimes it's quicker to just abandon your current flight and launch a new one directly. If you win the fight you may be able to collect your drones afterwards (or you can use the "reconnect to lost drones" command to regain control of them, provided you don't have other drones in space).

If you have a criminal flag, or an aggression timer, then sentry guns on gates and stations will see your drones as a valid target. Since sentry guns have perfect tracking, they will kill your drones very fast if they decide to shoot them. For this reason, drone boats are somewhat unpopular with lowsec pirates.

Drones vs. Drones

Small-scale battles between droneboats often involve a 'drone war', in which (since both ships have their DPS tied up in their drones) they both order their drones to attack the enemy's drones. In these engagements, smaller drones tend to beat larger drones (as they are much faster and more agile), and if it simply comes down to a battle of attrition then the ship with more dronebay space dedicated to light scouts will probably emerge victorious. However, you can try a few tricks to swing the contest your way. Consider that:

  • To order drones to attack other drones, you need to have locks on the target drones
  • The time taken to switch out a flight of drones depends on their distance from you (further away, they'll have to fly longer to get back to you)

It is therefore greatly to your advantage for the drone war to happen near you and distant from your opponent: this will let you swap flights to break your opponent's lock on your drones, and will force your opponent to take a lot of time, or abandon his current flight, any time he wants to swap flights.

If you have a stasis webifier on your ship, using it on nearby enemy drones will make it much easier for your drones to kill them (as well as slowing their escape).

You can try to tempt your opponent to send their drones to you - hope that they set their drones on your ship, or even refuse to launch your own drones until they do so. You can also try launching medium or heavy drones without ordering them to attack, in the hope that they will send their drones to attack your drones, at which point you can swap flights and retaliate.

Sentry drones muddle all of the above tactics, of course, because a ship that can field them can drop them and remain with them ready to scoop them again - though by doing this they give up the ability to move around the battlefield. Some sentry-fielding ships can also drop sentries and move, trying to force you to choose between attacking the sentries and attacking their parent ship.

Recommended ships

See also: Drone-capable ships

Dedicated droneboats have large drone bays and high bandwidth for their size, and deal the majority of their DPS through drones. This has advantages:

  • Outsourcing DPS to your drones frees up slots on your ship for utility (such as EWAR, capacitor warfare, logistics), or you can fit weapons to further increase your DPS.
  • If you have multiple flights of different drones, you can be very flexible to to what targets you can engage.
  • Your drones will continue to fire even if you're jammed, damped or tracking-disrupted.

Of course, reliance on drones has its disadvantages too:

  • Your enemy can attack and destroy your drones, or you can be forced to warp out and abandon them.
  • It takes time for your drones to reach their target and apply their damage (unless you use sentry drones), and if your target is very fast, your drones may have difficulty catching them.
  • Drones often require more micromanagement than launchers or turrets.
Race Ship Description
Gallente Federation Ishkur.jpg The Ishkur is one of the most powerful assault frigates with up to 50 m3 of drone bay. It makes for a resilient tackler and a good solo ship.
Gallente Federation Vexor.jpg The Vexor is a tough and very flexible cruiser, which can be both a tackler or a DPS ship, and makes for a good solo ship. Fitted with a shield tank and blasters it can outdamage a Thorax.
Gallente Federation Ishtar.jpg The Ishtar is a very tough and flexible heavy assault cruiser. In PvP it's often used as a brawler with heavy drones, but can also be effective with sentry drones (although it lacks the mobility to keep up with sniper HAC fleets).
Gallente Federation Dominix.jpg The Dominix is a cheap and powerful all-round battleship. It can be fitted for many different roles, from high DPS (with blasters and heavy drones) to remote repair to capacitor warfare. The Dominix is only overshadowed by the Rattlesnake as a battleship-sized drone carrier, but the Dominix is much more commonly used due to its lower price.
Amarr Empire Sentinel.png The Sentinel electronic attack frigate combines tracking disruptors with capacitor warfare and a good-sized drone bay (albeit without bonuses). It makes for an excellent solo ship as well as an effective gang support ship.
Amarr Empire Arbitrator.jpg The Arbitrator cruiser offers a flexible combination of tracking disruptor EWAR with powerful drone bonuses and a cavernous drone bay. It can be either shield (for more drone damage) or armor (for more EWAR) tanked, keeping your enemies guessing.
Amarr Empire Curse.jpg The Curse combat recon cruiser offers a deadly mix of tracking disruption EWAR, capacitor warfare, and high drone DPS. The Curse is a very effective in both gang and solo combat - although this may lead to it being primaried in fleet fights, and avoided in solo combat.
Amarr Empire Pilgrim.jpg The Pilgrim force recon cruiser is a shorter-range Curse with a cloaking device. This allows it to sneak up to enemies undetected, but has more difficulty disengaging from a fight that's not going in its favour.
Guristas Worm.jpg The Worm frigate sports super-powered light drones and a very tough shield tank. It's as tough as an assault frigate, but faster - although its price is also correspondingly higher.
Guristas Gila.jpg The Gila can fly two super-powered medium drones. Combined with its high-damage missile launchers and tough shield tank, it contends with the Ishtar as the most powerful cruiser-sized drone platform.

Fleet applications

Fleet composition

In fleet situations, drones can be used to temporarily mimic the capabilities of specialized fleet members, particularly in the case of EWAR drones. However, this application is generally ineffective over long engagements, and EWAR drones should be replaced by specialized ships once those ships arrive. For example, in all cases where webs are being applied, once additional tackle ships are in range, webbing drones are no longer needed. Drone ships, such as the GallenteVexor and GallenteMyrmidon that have large drone capacities, can deploy the specialized drones to gain a tactical advantage, and then deploy combat drones to bring addition damage to play once the target is brought under control. In small gangs, the FC will likely need a dual roll ship to apply these drones effectively. In larger fleets, smaller ships like the GallenteAlgos can stay at range and allow the bulk of the fleet to focus on the primary target.

Also, unlike modules, drones can be deployed against multiple targets (e.g. three ECM drones can be applied against one AmarrGuardian and two against another). Even if they are not a superior force, they can be sufficiently annoying to force an opposing fleet to use less than optimal tactics (e.g. bring an additional Guardian into the fleet to support the battle, possibly replacing a DPS ship).

The primary question the FC must answer is "do I have the capacity to bring in a dedicated support ship, such as a CaldariBlackbird for ECM". If so, then the dedicated support ship will always be a superior choice. But, if the FC is forced to forgo the support ship to have sufficient DPS to be effective, these drones can provide significant capability.

Another point to consider is that many ships (especially frigates) have limited drone capacity and bandwidth (see Drone-capable ships). By themselves, these drones are of limited utility in any capacity. However, five frigates each carrying a single drone can provide a full flight of drones to a capable drone bunny. This can be a way to convert an otherwise "excess capability" into a useful force without sacrificing anything. It does, however, require significant forethought on the part of the fleet.

Fleet behavior

In order to be successful, pilots in drone-based and drone-augmented fleets should follow a specific series of steps when engaging:

  1. Warp in
  2. Begin locking a target (so friendly logi can lock you)
  3. While waiting for the lock to finish:
    1. Deploy drones
    2. Command them to "assist" the designated ship (often called the "drone bunny")
  4. Start shooting

The goal is to have the drones assigned to the drone bunny so that they are available when the drone bunny's lock lands. While this usually applies to DPS drones, the same ritual is required in order to deploy advanced drones effectively.

Another behavior to be practiced is learning not to recall drones when switching from advanced drones to DPS drones. Instead, the advanced drones must be abandoned. The DPS drones can be well on their way to the target in the time it takes the advanced drones to return. The drones can be recovered after the fight.

Scenarios

Gate Camps

Null Sec gate camps often include Interdictors (GallenteEris, CaldariFlycatcher, AmarrHeretic, MinmatarSabre) to provide temporary bubbles, as once they are up, no ship within the bubble can warp away. They are effective without having to target a ship, and they are short lived (2 minutes versus the Mobile Warp Disruptor's 30 day life span). In order to keep the target ship from warping off, it has to be kept in the bubble. This is more difficult than it sounds as the Interdiction Bubbles stay were they are launched. The Interdictor can launch more bubbles, but it has a limited supply and a long reload time.

In a gate camp, the target ship can easily be 20km away from any other ship. Until the target ship breaks its gate cloak, no one knows where the target is, and no one is able to web it until they can lock it and get in range. Web modules work over a very limited range, usually less than 10km without boosts. This does not allow much time to lock the ship, burn to it and apply webs to slow it down before it can burn out of the bubble.

Drones, however, have a working range from 20km with minimal skills to 60km with maximum skills. While the pilot still has to lock the target and the drones still have to fly to it, this time can often be shorter than the time required to burn out to the target.

Kiting takedowns

This situation is similar to the gate camp. The biggest problem with fighting kiting fleets is getting close enough to a target to provide an effective warp-in for the rest of the fleet. Given the long range of drones, if combat utility drones can be applied early, they can slow the target ship just enough to allow tackle to get close enough to provide an effective warp-in early in the engagement.

Freeing up a midslot

Many FCs prefer a shield tanked fleet to provide speed. But doing this in a PvP fleet can be difficult when you have less than 4 slots (1 for the MWD, 1 for a point or scram, 1 for a web, the rest for tank). If the ship has reasonable DPS without drones, then drones can replace the web. True, this web is not as effective as a module, but as discussed above, its greater operating range can tip the scales toward victory.

Disrupting enemy logistics

See also: Electronic Countermeasures

Logistics and other support ships, such as ECM ships, are notoriously difficult to attack because the can sit well off the attacking fleet. ECM drones can either break there locks, or force them in closer. The first scenariio reduces their effectiveness and, in cases where Guardians and other shared capacitor ships are used, render them useless. The second scenario forces them closer to the attacking fleet which makes them easier to attack.

To examine the effectiveness of drones in this role, consider the following example:

  Chance to Jam = (1 -(1 - Your ECM Strength / Target's Sensor Strength ) ^ The number of jammers of this strength)*100%"

The Vespa EC-600 drone has a strength of 1.5. The AmarrGuardian has a RADAR sensor strength of 19. If we apply three Vespa EC-600 drones to a Guardian, the chance to break its locks (as a percentage) is:

  (1 - (1 - (1.5/19)) ^ 3) * 100
  (1 - (1 - (0.07)) ^ 3) * 100
  (1 - (0.93) ^ 3) * 100
  (1 - 0.8) * 100

or about 20%. This is not going to render the Guardian useless, but it will make it less effective.

Sensor Dampening drones are not highly effective as they suffer stacking penalties. In order to be useful, three Ogre SD-900's would need to be applied to reduce the sensor range by about 40% (see Stacking Penalties. However, Ogres are the slowest of all the heavy drones, with a speed of 1000m/s (see Drones), which means they will not land on their target quickly. This time can be up to 60 seconds depending the pilot's drone skills and the range to the target.

Logistics support for tacklers

As shown in Logistics Drones, a full flight of five medium logistics drones can repair 120 DPS. This won't keep a tackle ship alive forever, but when taking down a single ship of T1 cruiser size or below, this can extend the tackle's life by 20% or more (assuming the DPS ship produces 600 DPS or less). For example, a Tristan can be armor fit to provide 5K EHP. Against a Thorax or Vexor with up to 600DPS, the Tristan may survive 10 seconds. Extending that time to 12 seconds with armor logi drones may just provide the additional lock time a larger, more capable ship needs to become effective on the field. If these drones are applied by dual role ship, it is unlikely that the fleet will be giving up DPS during the time the drones are supporting the tackle ship. To be most effective in the role, the dual role ship will need to have the tackle ship locked and the drones applied before the tackle engages.

References

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