Each of the main factions have two variations of Covert Ops Frigates; Stealth Bombers and Scanners. Both of these ships are designed to take advantage of a covert cloak which allows you to warp while remaining cloaked. Even though they have the same requirements to fly, their uses are generally very different. For this reason, I will separate them and only focus on the bombers at this time.
Covert Launcher Bombers
The only ships in the game that can fit a bomb launcher are the Stealth Bomber frigates. This is a module that launches a bomb that travels 30km straight ahead, then explodes. The explosion deals a single type of damage to all targets in an Area-of-Effect (AOE). Ships with a larger signature radius will end up taking more damage than those with a smaller signature.
An important limitation is the number of bombs that can be used in a single wave. Above a certain number, the bombs destroy one another on detonation, and the damage from any bombs over that limit is completely lost. As a result, the sweet spot for the number of bombers launching at once is around half a dozen. Skilled bomber FCs use this limitation to their advantage by splitting up their fleet into different bombing groups. Spreading these groups out around the target facilitates multiple bombing runs from different directions. By carefully timing and coordinating these attacks, it is possible to destroy an entire fleet of much larger ships.
There are some unique types of bombs that do not deal damage and instead have other effects such as breaking targets and capacitor neutralization. These bombs are only used under special circumstances and are generally not carried around unless specifically planned. Bombers rely on stealth and agility to survive since they typically have very low defenses. If a bomber gets locked and pointed, it can no longer cloak and is likely to die.
Covert Torpedo Bombers
Another unique attribute of Stealth Bombers is the ability to use torpedo launchers. Normally, torpedo launchers can only be fit to battleship size ships, similar to large guns. This allows bombers to shoot targets that are larger than they are, and deal significant amounts of damage for their size.
The main tactic used by torpedo bombers is to swarm the target using superior numbers. To do this, pilots take advantage of being able to take a Black Ops bridge to a covert cyno in-system with the target of choice. This is an ability that is limited to ships able to fit a covert cloaking device. At this time, other than a short list of exceptions, the only ships that can do this are Covert Frigates and Force Recon Cruisers.
Torpedo bombers also fill a niche area because of the nature of POS (Player-Owned-Station) mechanics. Towers put up by players have a lot of eHP, even when turned offline. Taking down enemy towers requires dealing a lot of damage. While Citadels have a damage cap, the older POSes do not. Bombers fitted with torpedo launchers became an effective way of dealing a lot of damage without risking larger ships. Because of the tracking and damage application issues facing larger POS guns, unless the tower is defended with Small turrets, the bombers can attack with relative impunity. As POSes are phased out, this role will slowly disappear from the meta.
Subtype: “Goku” Torpedo Bombers
Goku-style bombers are even more of a niche development. Foregoing the cloak entirely, Gokus tend to be used in timer fights, where the enemy is almost guaranteed to show up. With a low signature radius, and high damage output, gokus can often provide an economical support platform. They give an FC a potent way to add firepower to support other fleets without risking a lot of ISK.
Covert Hunter Bombers
With their ability to use covert cloaking devices and cynos, Stealth Bombers are also an obvious choice for hunting the unwary. Hunters look for targets in systems within jump range of a Black Ops Battleship (Blops) that has additional ships on standby. Once the hunter is close enough to the target, they decloak, get initial tackle, and light a covert cyno. Next, the Blops ship creates a bridge to the cyno and the ships on standby take the bridge. From there, the other ships apply additional tackle and begin to shoot the target. If everything goes as planned, the target should explode under the sudden and overwhelming damage.
Wrapping Things Up
Stealth Bombers are designed to be glass cannons: They can deal massive amounts of damage compared to their size and cost, but have almost no defensive capabilities. Instead, they rely on stealth as their primary defense. Using bomb launchers, they can deal damage in an area that scales somewhat with the size of the ships caught in the zone. Torpedo launchers allow bombers to attack a single target for high amounts of damage, but typically require numbers to take targets down before they are swatted. Bombers’ stealth make them ideal hunters when searching for expensive targets.
All-in-all, bombers offer a lot of bang for a pilot’s buck, at a relatively low point of entry where skills are concerned. With the influx of alpha clones, an attractive frigate option for getting players involved and feeling able to make a difference can be an important selling point. No matter what, as the game moves forward, bombers will continue to find a place in the meta.