A peaceful ratter sits in a site deep in sovereignty nullsec. He’s been happily ratting for quite some time, with the wrecks of quarry surrounding him. Local chat moves; a new person in system. The ratter, oblivious, hardly bats an eye. A few minutes later a new ship appears on his overview, but it’s no rat. The uncloaked Tech 3 cruiser quickly applies a warp scrambler and web to the nullbear’s battleship and begins to slow down. Just as the nullbear locks his enemy, the cruiser lights a cyno. A group of fifteen bombers appear and quickly destroy the ratter’s battleship. Mind reeling, he is still trying to figure out what just happened. He has just felt the might of a Black Ops drop.
As illustrated above, a Black Ops drop (BLOPs) is guerilla-style attack wherein cloaked ships jump through a cyno to kill their target. While very similar to other hotdrops, the BLOPs hotdrop jump to a covert cyno, which is only active for 2 minutes and only appears on the overivew of those on grid with it. In the aforementioned scenario, the attackers were using a conventional BLOPs Fleet. This sort of fleet uses a Tech II Black Ops Battleship to create a jump portal to send a group of stealth bombers and cloaking recon ships to destroy the target. The other method involves using only Black Ops Battleships to do the destroying, with a group of them jumping to the covert cyno. Whichever method you prefer to use, you’re going to need ships to go out and find target, tackle them, and then light the covert cyno. This role is known as the Hunter/Killer (H/K) and is the first part of BLOPs we’ll delve into.
When it comes to H/Ks, there are a few ships that can do the job. The things you are looking for are whether or not it can light a covert cyno and if it can establish and hold tackle until the rest of the fleet arrives and kills the target. In order to light a covert cyno, a ship must be able to equip a covert ops cloak – this means bombers, recon ships, cloaky T3 cruisers, and cloaking haulers. Given that list of ships, it becomes apparent what are the best choices for the job. Cloaking T3 cruisers tend to make the best H/Ks, since they can be tanked to have absurd amount of hitpoints. Recon ships are still able H/Ks, just not nearly as resilient as a T3 cruiser. Regardless of which you choose, the strategy of finding targets remains the same.
Finding targets is the first challenge that an H/K has to surmount. Much of nullsec and lowsec is rather empty, so finding targets can be difficult. The first method to find targets is to use the site Dotlan. This site is invaluable, as it displays a variety of statistics such as ratting activity, the number of jumps through a system, and the number of player kills in a system. When hunting in null sec, choose the map of the region you plan to hunt in and change the data displayed to NPC Kills. You will be looking at the number of NPC kills in each system, with the green systems having lower ratting activity, yellow and brown having high ratting activity, and uncolored having none at all. If hunting in low sec, change the displayed data to Jumps or Ships/Pod Kills. In either case, a good H/K will go to each major area of activity and see if they can find anyone to drop on. Once a target is spotted, it’s time to approach and get tackle. It is obviously best to approach the target cloaked so you don’t spook them. Players will also have to be mindful of any wrecks or other objects, as these will decloak you if you get within 2km of them. A more advanced method of approaching the target is known as pinging. This is a technical term to describe the act of bookmarking a wreck that is close to the target ship, then warping off to another celestial, and then warping at range of the bookmarked wreck. This is especially useful when you are far from the target when you initially land, because moving 100km while cloaked is not something you want to do. Once you’re in range of the target, it’s time get the party started. The process is very straightforward: decloak, lock target, scram, web, slow down and light cyno. At this point the cavalry should arrive and dispatch the target.
The Main Fleet
Speaking of the cavalry, lets talk about the muscle of the BLOPs fleet. Like I mentioned earlier, you can BLOPs drop with either a group of bombers and recons or a group of BLOPs battleships. With bombers and recons, it is important to understand the mechanics behind using a jump portal, whether with a BLOPs battleship or a Titan. Before you are even close to drop on some unsuspecting ratter, you will need to be setup on the bridging BLOPs battleship. To set up, the BLOPs BS will get into a safe spot and cloak. It is important that the bombers and recons are not on grid with the battleship at this point. Next, on the FC’s command, the bombers and recons will warp to the BLOPs at zero. Since two cloaked ships can’t decloak each other, the group will remain cloaked until a target is found and jump portal needs to be created. To do this, the battleship will decloak, decloaking most of the bombers and recons surrounding it. The bombers and recons will now need to make sure they are within 2.5km of the battleship, as otherwise they will not be able to use the jump portal. It is also extremely important that no one bumps the BLOPs BS while the portal is going up. Doing so will push it away from other players, potentially making them unable to take the bridge. All the bombers have to do is right click on the battleship (in space, right clicking on the overview doesn’t work) and select the “Jump to ….” option. This will fling you to the location of the H/K and the target, where you can get to work on reducing your foe to scrap metal.
Once the bombers and recons land on grid, there are few things that need to be done besides blowing things up. It is a good idea for any bombers to align out to a celestial. This is because bombers have very little tank and you need to be able to get out if anything goes sideways. Don’t worry about not being able to apply damage, as bombers have around 40 km range with T1 torpedos. Recon ships that are dropped often have an additional job besides dealing damage. Rapiers and Arazus often provide secondary tackle on the target – useful if the H/K suddenly blows up. Falcons can help the fleet by jamming out any rats, as the H/K lighting a cyno tends to generate a lot of aggro. Lastly, Pilgrims are sometimes used as logi, repairing the H/K and any other nearby ships. Covops T3s can also be used in this role. Once the target is destroyed, or if things start to go wrong, the BLOPs group can extract from the system. To do this, the fleet will scatter to random celestials and remain cloaked. While doing this the H/K (assuming he’s still alive) will set up a safe spot and light a cyno for the battleship to jump to. The BS will then cloak and let his capacitor recharge, since jumping to the cyno and creating a jump portal take a large amount of energy. Once the bridging BLOPs battleship has recharged, the rest of the fleet will warp to him cloaked, so that the fleet is in a similar configuration as the initial setup. At this point a return cyno will be lit and the battleship will decloak and open a portal to the staging system. The H/K can now go find more targets, and the process starts anew.
Using BLOPs battleships is much simpler than using a bomber/recon fleet, but they are much more expensive and skillpoint intensive. The upside is that BLOPs battleships are very powerful. The procedure for executing a drop is much the same as the aforementioned method, with the H/K lighting a cyno on a tackled victim. The difference is that each BLOPs battleship can jump itself to the cyno, requiring no help from another ship. Once that target is killed, extraction involves using a return cyno for the BLOPs battleships to return to their staging area.
Using black ops is a very effective method of harassment. Even when done by a relatively small group, an entire region of sov null can be shut down in terms of ratting. Hopefully, this guide has explained the basics of black ops. We look forward to seeing more hot-dropped ratters.