Covert Ops: Check

A quick update as our wormhole expedition preparations proceed at their glacial pace.  In addition to having a blockade runner on one account, I can check the box for a covert ops ship on the other, in this case the Caldari covert ops ship the Buzzard which is sort of a Heron on steroids.

Aside from sporting a cool camo paint job, it can fit a covert ops cloaking device allowing warping while cloaked which is awfully nice.

Camo never goes out of style
Camo never goes out of style

Struggling a bit with the fit, but for now its load out is as follows:

Lows:
Co-Processor II
Power Diagnostic System I

Mediums:
1MN Afterburner I
Codebreaker I
[empty med slot]
[empty med slot]
[empty med slot]

Highs:
Covert Ops Cloaking Device II
Expanded Probe Launcher I
Salvager I

Rigs:
Gravity Capacitor Upgrade I
Gravity Capacitor Upgrade I

Having the expanded probe launcher is nice.  I can use combat scanner probes and only pull out the core scanner probes when I need to go below 0.5 au scan radius.  With increasing skills, the Buzzard and the grav rigs, I seldom need to go that low.  Without the local channel to rely on to see if there are others in the system, having probes that show ships and exploration sites is a comfort.

Standards Rule, Ok

On other fronts, I’ve been undertaking a bit of an effort to coordinate some “platform neutrality” skill wise.  While several of us have covert ops capable ships (transports, covert ops etc.) resupply will probably be accomplished mostly by pedestrian industrial ships since they are cheap, small in mass and plentiful.  A dual consensus is emerging that most of us can fly the Minmatar industrial Mammoth or the Gallente Iteron Mark IV.  Most of us are also Caldari Badger pilots too, though the Badger doesn’t have quite the hauling capacity of the Mammoth or the Iterons.  So in order to provide maximum flexibility, one account needed to get to Gallente and the other to Minmatar.  Only a day or two for each and we’ll be good to go.  You never know which pilot may find himself on the k-space side of the wormhole and its always good to have a backhaul.

On the combat side, its looking like Drakes and Feroxes will be the basic ships of the line.  Relatively cheap, and having the legendary tank of the Drake will hopefully be a help with the sleepers.  The downside of course is having to bring ammo, but with an ammunition assembly array planned as part of the POS, that should be managable.

Manifest Destiny

Finally, I’ve been getting great feedback on the vagaries of wormhole POS defense-craft.  After canvassing sources, its a bit of a toss up between a large and a medium tower.  The cost and fuel savings associated with a medium tower make it awfully attractive.  Especially so if we went with something like a True Sansha control tower.  More expensive, but cheaper on fuel.

My previous approach was that you can’t go too far wrong with a large control tower.  I would hate to have a medium one popped.  But, the more info I get from folks, the more I’m backing off that a bit.

One big reason for considering a smaller tower is fuel.  I was working up a hauling manifest for the initial deployment and started having a few second thoughts.  I’ve been assuming that the initial colonization would be undertaken by 2 or 3 corp mates, all of whom have multiple accounts.  Among those likely suspects are 2 Orca pilots.  Even so, with a large tower configuration, basically one Orca is the POS and the other is fuel leaving little additional room for other necessaries.

Part of the challenge is the Orca’s ship maintenance bay.  At 400k m3, it seems huge.  It is actually a cleverly derived number designed to vex Eve players, I’m sure.  A fully assembled Hulk mining barge is only 200k m3, so 2 assembled Hulks would fit nicely in there.  Industrials and battlecruisers are all above 200k m3, so they don’t pair with each other or a mining barge.

Not that big of a deal really, but a bit of an optimization puzzle.  Unrigged ships can be dissassembled and hauled in regular cargo of the Orca’s or any other industrial.  Not all of our current ships are unrigged though.  I don’t rig my barges, but I do rig the Drakes, so more than half of a bay will be taken up with one ship.  Too bad both my accounts have Drakes.

Inevitably, we’ll resort, I’m sure to the tried and true method of podding out– flying out of the wormhole in your pod to conserve mass budget and then ferrying in additional needed ships.  Sub optimal, but vastly superior to collapsing the wormhole with too many ginormous ships like the Orcas.

Once the POS is up and running, who cares?  But its the intial foray that it would be nice to have all your building materials, industrial and combats ships all in at the initial deployment.  Ah, the excitement of Eve!  Generating an optimized packing list!

Gimme Shelter

Planning for The Expedition to wormhole space is proceeding to pace though it will still take us some time to amass the isk and materiel required for the endeavor.  As there is no ice in w-space, you need to bring all your own fuel.  Based on my scratch calculations (more on that later), I’m guessing that we’ll need the equivalent of about 80 million isk worth of fuel and trade goods to operate the station per month.

According to Grismar’s Ice Chart, Clear Icicle, the most basic flavor of Amarr ice, will yield some of the necessary fuel components for the POS and at current market prices is slightly more lucrative than mining veldspar in high sec.  When you consider the long cycle time, very large ice asteroids and relative absence of rats (not that they pose a threat in high sec) you have a recipe for near AFK mining during the week.

Of course, how much fuel to lay in for the expedition is a matter of debate.  How much fuel you’ll need is a function of the size of your POS control tower and how frequently you think you can reliably resupply. On the second point, probably the most conservative I’ve read is bring 3 months of fuel with you when you set up your POS in w-space just in case.  That’s the goal for starters.  We’ll see how long that takes to amass while acquiring everything else we’ll need.

Which brings me to the question at hand:  Wormhole POS design.  Opinions abound.  Strategies vary, not all are successful.

So approaching it like all things Eve I began researching the topic.  While there seems to be a fair amount of info out there on setting up POS’s in k-space, the w-space POS appears to be a bit of a novelty still.

Actually determining the fitting of the POS is simpler than fitting a ship.  The only two constraints you have are how much powergrid and cpu your control tower has.  Each additional module (e.g., corp hangar array, turret batteries, refining arrays, etc.) simply uses one or both.  If you have enough pg and cpu, you can bring the module online.  You can replace EFT with a simple spreadsheet.  There are some POS fitting tools out there like this one or QuickFit.

Nice view.  Who does your windows?
Nice view. Who does your windows?

The Tower of Power

The control tower is the center of the station and provides all the power and cpu necessary to run your desired modules.  So the first question for a w-space POS is how much control tower do I need?  Conventional wisdom suggests (as Letrange’s account confirms) that a small tower just wont cut it.

For the Amarr version:

Large: 5 million MW of pg,  5,500 tf of cpu
Medium: 2.5 million MW pg, 2,750 tf cpu
Small:  1.25 million MW pg, 1,375 tf

Prices follow the same structure:  a small base price is 100 million, medium 200 million, large 400 million.  Four times everything for four times the price (that includes things like armor and shields too).  I tend toward over-engineeing things so I’m inclined to go with a large tower and be done with it.

Services and Amenities

Deciding what other modules to install depends on what you want to do.  Here’s what I’m considering for starters:

Corporate Hangar Array
Ship Maintenance Array
Medium Intensive Refining Array
Medium Ship Assembly Array
Ammunition Assembly Array

Other options include a Large and Small ship assembly array.  I assume we’ll lose ships to sleepers and with a little planning, a few “standard” platforms and some modest stockpiles of fittings, we should be able to make spares as we need them with a limited number of BPOs or BPCs.  It would be especially nice if we could make a few BS’s in the hole which would help with Sleepers and any visitors as well.  For that matter, a mobile lab might be interesting to play with as well to research BPOs and work on invention.

I assume I would only really be limited by how much isk we were willing to spend on modules and offline them if we weren’t using them.

Defenses

Here’s the main area where viewpoints (and my own confusion) abound.  Most wormhole gangs probably wont have a swarm of battleships or they’d risk collapsing their exit hole.  Likewise, they may be looking for either easy pvp kills or sleeper loot, not necessarily hoping to find a POS to bash.

Seems to be three basic approaches:

  • Turtle: Make your POS hard and and annoyingly long to take down so your opponents eventually give up and run before their exit wormhole collapses.  This means keeping a healthy stockpile of strontium clathrates on hand so your tower can go into reinforced mode if necessary, and using a combination of electronic counter measures to disrupt targeting (no afk shooting) and shield hardeners to reduce damage taken.
  • Deathstar:  Make your POS reach out and touch someone with maximum boom boom.  The wormhole equivalent of a bug zapper.  Lots of turret batteries of various sizes to counter everything from sniping BSs to swarming frigates and everything in between.  Even more devastating when one or a few of the defenders have the Starbase Defense Management skill trained so they can take control of the guns and focus fire.  Even better if you have swarms of Tie Fighters corp members to scramble and defend the base.
  • Middle of the Road (guess which one i’m choosing):  A combination of passive PITA defenses with enough active defenses to keep attackers honest.

Given this will be in a wormhole, conventional wisdom here says go with zomglazerz to avoid ammo needs, so Amarr towers it is.  Now, I just need to figure out how many, what kind and where to put them…

Here’s one suggestion:

4-6x warp disruptors *At least one online, 3-5 offline
4x stasis webs *2 online, 2 offline
5x shield hardeners
2-4 ecm arrays of each type.
2 neuts *1 online, 1 offline
Fill the rest of the grid with medium longrange guns

Here’s another:

7-8 hardeners,
10 guns,
point
Damp batteries.

And one more:

4 small and 4 mid size pulse lasers
neuting turret (for breaking active tanks),
warp scram
web turret

So I’m at a bit of a loss.  I’m leaning toward the first setup or something similar since I don’t anticipate having too many people online at any given time.  Since you have to anchor the turrets outside of the shield bubble, having some small guns to protect them makes sense, but is that really necessary or would mediums suffice?  Likewise, do I need any Large turrets (375 km) to deal with snipers?  What about pulse versus beam?  Seems that pulse would track better, but I had a conversation with a friend in another corp who was adamant about beams only?  What gives?

Finally, something I haven’t read anywhere, how to physically array them around your control tower?

A Sneaking Suspicion

Well, it seems like Expedition preparations are continuing on several fronts.

I’ve been mission running to get enough faction for a jump clone and mining out the mission spaces for isk.  Finally being able to access a level 4 agent with Amarr Navy located within my home system has been a big help.  Along with the faction bump, level 4 loot, salvage and the asteroids make it well worth while.

When not missioning/mining (or just too tired or lazy to do anything else), I’m putting away ice for our POS fuel depot in my newly minted Mackinaw.  Ice mining makes asteroid mining feel like the Kentucky Derby but its quite the semi-afk friendly activity which is what I need sometimes.  Fortunately, refined ice products are just about as or slightly more lucrative than veld in my region of high sec.

Finally, Wil just completed training on his Buzzard covert ops ship about the same time that I completed training for the Gallente blockade runner transport, the Viator.  Covert Ops capability has been a primary goal for the Expedition.

You know about the shrinkage right?
You know about the shrinkage right?

The Gallente have two variants of transport ships, the Viator and the Occator, with slightly different characteristics.  The Occator is larger (5,000 m3 base cargo), slower (90 m/s) and has 2 points of built in warp strength while the Viator is smaller (3,000 m3), faster (170 m/s) and is able to fit a covert ops cloaking device to allow warping while cloaked.  I opted for the Viator which is basically a stubby nitro burning funny-ship version of the Iteron Mark V.

Having already trained up to Gallente Industrial V for my Iteron Mark V hauler, it was mainly a matter of getting trained for the covert ops cloak and waiting to pull the trigger on the transport ship skill which runs about 30 million isk IIRC.

I haven’t decided how to fit it out yet.  The Viator has 1 high, 3 medium, 3 low slots and 2 rig slots.  Covert Ops cloak occupies the high, so thats done.  Its everywhere else that I’m torn.

In the mediums, conventional wisdom says a 10 MN microwarp drive.  Check.  Then it gets tougher.  Being able to warp cloaked is a great advantage to avoiding trouble.  Still your vulnerable in a few situations:  warping after a jump (whether camped or not) and getting decloaked by coming within 2km of an object.

The fits that I’ve seen discussed tend to foregoe cargo capacity for speed and agility (i.e. no cargo expanders in the lows, no cargohold optimization rigs).  Fully rigged for cargo (“yer doin it wrong”) would only give about 10k m3 of haulage anyway at a significant cost in speed and agility.

So here’s what I’m considering as a compromise (any thoughts appreciated):

Lows:
Synthetic Hull Conversion Inertia Stabilizers I
Synthetic Hull Conversion Inertia Stabilizers I
Expanded Cargohold II

Mids:
10MN MicroWarpdrive I
Small Shield Extender II
ECM Burst II

High:
Covert Ops Cloaking Device II

Rigs:
Low Friction Nozzle Joints I
Hyperspatial Velocity Optimizer I

If my EFT is close to right, this should give a base speed of about 350 m/s (almost 2km/s on MWD), cargo of almost 4,800 m3 and an align time of about 5.5 seconds (depending on skills).  Not looking to get into trouble, but I’m hoping that this will get me out quickly enough.

The Expedition

High Sec, shit. I’m still only in High Sec. Every time I think I’m going to wake up back in the wormhole. When I was home after my first tour, it was worse. I’d wake up and there’d be nothing…  I’ve been here a week now. Waiting for a mission, getting softer. Every minute I stay in this station I get weaker. And every minute Sleeper squats in w-space he gets stronger. Each time I look around the station walls move in a little tighter.

Everyone gets everything he wants. I wanted a mission, and for my sins they gave me one. An expedition.

“I may say that this is the greatest factor — the way in which the expedition is equipped — the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck.”

-Roald Amundsen.

The time has come for the Next Big Eve Goal(tm).  Without one, I tend to wander a bit, log in less, queue up random skills and end up doing something else.  A project.  Not merely an activity.  Something that appeals to my sense of adventure and exploration.  An Expedition.

In our little casual corp, we’ve been bandying about the idea of setting up our own Player Owned Station in high security space.  The idea was that we could set up a research station on the cheap to do invention and research and copy BPOs without long waits.  As an idea that wasn’t too bad.  It fed our industrial tendencies but lets face it, it wasn’t that exciting.  Neat maybe, but not exciting.

So it came to pass that the idea of setting up a POS in a wormhole might be fun and rewarding.  The more we discussed it, the more intriguing it became.  It was the unknown.  It was 0.0 but the lawless, no sovereignty kind of 0.0.  It was risky.  It was difficult to get to and potentially very difficult to get out.  You could become marooned.  There was the promise of finding exotic and precious things and in there lurked evil monsters.

An expedition to w-space.  We’d need to be as self contained an operation as possible since resupply would be dicey at best.  And, like all the best things in Eve, it would require lots of planning, strategerizing and yes, perhaps a few spreadsheets.

Like the Asmundsen quote, we should plan on making our own luck.

Through the Eye of the Needle

The first constraint to consider is the fact that wormholes have a mass limit and a time limit. For example, a Q317 Class 1 Wormhole will permit only a maximum of 20 million kg at a time to pass through and an aggregate total of 500 million kg to pass through before collapse and it will only persist for 16 hours.

Finding a candidate wormhole is the first order of business.  Initially, I think we’ll opt for a fairly pedestrian Class 1, 2 or 3 wormhole as a trial run.  The ideal wormhole candidate should be reasonably fresh and undisturbed by ship travel.

Plan A will be to insert a probe ship capable of cloaking and with an ample supply of probes to scan down the system.  In a perfect world, a buddy will remain on the k-space side of the hole on recon.

The prober will apply basic wormhole hygiene upon arrival:  bookmark the entrance side of the hole, bookmark the exit once in the wormhole, immediately establish a safespot and then do some quick basic scans of the system to see what potential it has.  If it looks like a go, assemble the expedition.

Much of the logistics will depend on who wants to participate in this little adventure, but I’m initially trying to plan so that 2 people with 4 total accounts can set up a base of operations that will be self sufficient for the duration of the stay in the wormhole.

Maximum utility and minimum mass is key.  Likewise, a big point of the expedition is to obtain minerals, gasses and other booty that we cant find in high sec where we operate, so having some hauling capacity will be key as well.

Plan A will be to bring in an Orca with the vast majority of necessary items.  Even with its ginormous mass, in one haul it should be able to carry an entire POS set up, fuel for a few months, extra ships, ammo, etc.  Once in, the Orca can proceed to the safespot, cloak and wait for a base site to be scouted.  All the others can then meet up at the safespot and monitor wormhole traffic.

That's it?
That's it?

Wormheim

From what I’ve read, conventional wisdom suggests that a medium control tower with a collection of passive defenses should be enough in w-space.  The idea is that a) with the wormhole’s time and mass limits, you’re not likely to see too many ships of the battleship and above class and b) you don’t necessarily want to kill passers by, but rather make it a long drawn out affair to assault your station thus risking the collapse of their exit.  Turtle FTW.

Initially, I’m planning for a medium control tower, corp hangar array, ship maintenance array, refining array, research lab, and some storage and maybe a manufacturing array of an undetermined flavor.  It would be nice to be able to replenish any losses without having to leave the wormhole, but it may prove to be too much hassle.

The prober would scout a suitable moon location for the POS and then it would be anchored and put online.  Once the bubble is up, everyone can warp in and unpack while the system is scanned down fully.

In a perfect world, we’d leave a lifeboat (e.g. a cloak fitted Heron with probes) at a designated safespot, eject and return to the station.

The Expedition Fleet

First things first.  Any wormhole ship should have a probe launcher and a cloak.  You can never know when you might be the one stuck on the wrong side.

Next, versatility and survivability should be key.  Insurance would probably be worthwhile in the not so unlikely event.  Of course, any wormhole assembled ship would be without, so we should choose wisely.

  • Scouting: a Covert Ops ship would be ideal for probing, or in the alternative, a frigate like the Caldari Heron which gets scanning bonuses.  Covert Ops would be optimal in the event of a needing to use an inconvenient null or low sec wormhole exit to get back to home k-space.  Scouts would also serve as hackers and archaeologists as well.
  • Combat:  With a small group, I’d want a battlecruiser.  A Drake with a passive tech II omni tank should do it.  Tough, mass efficient and reasonably cheap.  Alternatively, a gunnery ship like the Ferox would probably work.  Probably not taking out 3 BS sleeper spawns, but probably enough firepower in a group.
  • Mining:  Undecided here.  I’m not sure I’d want to risk Hulks and Covetor/Retriever is probably too lightweight.  While great at what they do, the Hulk may be too limited in utility for w-space.  For gas cloud harvesting, I already have a Ferox set up for w-space that can easily be repurposed for mining with 5 miner IIs (no crystals to wear out) or combat.  The cost and flexibility of that platform with an almost-as-good-as-a-Drake tank makes it very attractive.
  • Local Hauling:  Cheap industrials fitted with a cloak should probably suffice.  The goal is to haul to base at the first hint of trouble.  Alternatively, if it gets popped either by a Sleeper rat or a player interloper, good luck to them.  They still have to get any loot out and they’re in our house.
  • Distant Hauling:  Getting small quantities in and out of the wormhole would be best served by a transport like an Occator (2 points built in) or a Viator (can warp cloaked).  If the exit is high sec, then a local hauler would be ok.  Given the mass budget of wormholes, its likely more efficient if a bit riskier to export minerals, etc. via multiple small industrials.
  • Salvage:  Nothing beats having a destroyer salver only a jump away.  Cheap and fast.

Funding It All

I think the entire POS set up with a few months of fuel can be bought for under 300-400 million isk, and we’d plan on using it in more than one instance.  I think I’ve convinced a corp mate to go in on it with me, so thats not that big of an investment.  Skills of course, cost what they cost to get up to snuff.  Getting to covert ops is really my main gateway at this point.  I should have a character trained on it this next week.

If I can obtain or purchase some key BPOs or BPCs, we could manufacturer any replacement ships we might need rather than haul their mass through a WH.  Stockpiling an initial cache of common ammo and modules also shouldn’t be prohibitively expensive.  Particularly if we bring BPOs or BPCs with.

The initial population would be a minimum of 4 accounts, but hopefully a few others will join us.  If all goes well, we could be ready to deploy in a weekend or two.

So what am I leaving out?

Sleepers 1, Potshot 0

This ain't over...
This ain't over...

Adventures in exploration continue…

So there I was not exactly minding my own business exploring a wormhole out of empire in my wee Heron… I should have known it was cursed

Strike one, although the wormhole hadn’t been disturbed significantly by ships, it was nearing the end of its life.

Strike two, as I was scanning down sites in the wormhole, I got disoriented and ended up scanning down my exit hole…

Strike three, it was getting late and I scanned down a site near the periphery of the system hoping it would be a gravimetric or ladar site.  But no, it was a magentometric site which means archaelogical ruins.

I hadn’t scanned down one of those before, so I said what the heck, lets check it out.

I got the site to 100% and decided to warp in to 100km just to see what it was about.

Chat says it all (note the time stamps):

chat

Classic noobness. While I fumbled for a warp point, the five or six sleeper frigates who were at 40-50kms when I warped in at 100km made short work of the wee Heron.

So what have we learned?

Insurance is good.  Especially for exploration ships.

Have your exit strategy in place before you scout a site i.e., have your Plan destination before you warp into trouble.   Especially if you’re scouting in a soap bubble like the Heron.

Sleepers are like a box of angry kittens.