This piece does not aim to analyze some of the minutia of EVE wartime tactics. The specifics of ship doctrine, fleet makeup, the tactics used when assaulting structures, etc., are not the focus of this evaluation. Rather, I will look at the larger reactions and philosophies of PAPI’s recent decisions, and their place in the larger narrative of the war to date.
First, Some Elephants In the Room
1) M2-XFE. PAPI titan forces launching themselves into a Goon-stacked system resulted in disaster, one still ongoing. PAPI assets have remained “hellcamped” since the maneuver and, despite some morale boosting breakout escapades (successful only at considerable cost), many ships continue to be locked down. This is a major thorn in PAPI’s side and something of which the Imperium ought to be proud. Their dedication and preparation for the fight has paid off not in ISK only, but has also made some question an attacker’s (like PAPI) ability to fight into such heavily populated servers even with overwhelming numerical advantages. It could be argued that the real elephant in the room is to what degree war can be waged when the numbers of combatants get as high as was seen in fights like M2. The Imperium’s overwhelming victory has been blamed by some on malfunctions of the server alone, conveniently passing over the merit and dedication of Imperium defenders. Others have called PAPI’s decision-making at M2 reprehensibly stupid, the results well deserved and all too predictable. Both positions, I believe, are untenable and the truth lies somewhere between the two.
2) The length of the war. War causes fatigue and the longer it goes the more fatigued are its fighters. Many among the Imperium have remarked (often quite loudly) that the length of WWBII is a testament to PAPI’s eventual downfall. That PAPI has “taken so long” to finish what it started is repeated by many Imperium members. PAPI members mention the length of the war less often and with less of an emphasis on its relevance. This could be because PAPI fighters are less fatigued than the Imperium claims they are, and so have less reason to have the length of the war presently on their mind. Another possibility is that no PAPI member wishes to say out loud what everyone (possibly) is thinking. Even less mentioned are the potential ramifications of Imperium fatigue, likely more draining due to the taxing position of being outnumbered and under constant assault. Whichever position one takes, one must consider how fatigue will affect both sides in the war as it continue to move forward.
3) The continued chipping away of Imperium assets. Amidst the wild swings of victory and defeat, rhetoric flaming, and hellcamping, assets within and around Delve continue to be destroyed. Recent events have included the loss of Imperium assets behind its “Helm’s Deep” system of E3OI-U. TIS Newspaper journalist Adreland Deninard reported 02/07/2021 (Monday) that “the Imperium has reinforced 17 IHUBS in Delve in the last 24 hours, and seven Territorial Claims Units. They’ve lost five systems in the last four days. Sovereignty since September has dropped from 150 Goonswarm Systems to around 60.” It remains to be seen how these events will affect Imperium morale or what they will mean for the war as a whole.
M2 = PAPI In A Headlock
PAPI’s egregious loss in M2 put their entire assault on standby. Suddenly they had their most valuable assets and most powerful weapons locked down and logged out. Many titans had simply been blown up outright and the rest became hostages. They had been put in a headlock. The moment this happened, as soon as I got over my dumbfoundedness, I thought, “We have got to go attack somewhere else!”
I currently am taking classes in a martial art called Wing Chun, where we are taught that when put into a headlock, or most any other grapple, one never attempts (initially) to untangle themselves from the lock. The first order of priority is to strike the opponent. To grapple a limb or head takes the continued presence of your opponent’s arms; if they are on your neck they aren’t protecting their ribs, etc. True, you are being grappled and that is uncomfortable. But that inevitably opens up opportunities for you to strike elsewhere if you don’t panic and are patient, waiting to unlock yourself at a later time (ideally when the opponent is reeling from your unexpected blow).
M2 is no blessing for PAPI, but it is an opportunity given the circumstances. True, PAPI titans and capitals are locked in a hellcamp, but it takes Imperium titans and capitals continually present in M2 to apply threat onto those PAPI ships. Those Imperium titans and capitals cannot go somewhere else without releasing the lock, so to speak. This allows PAPI forces to go attack other locations without the threat of escalation to the level of M2; this is also what they have done recently with seeming success, though much later than I would have liked. Indeed, while I was happy to hear that PAPI titans were broken out of M2, I was concerned about the heavy losses doing so sustained. It seemed to me like struggling at the location of the lock. I thought it far better to ignore the hellcamped assets for the time being, forcing the Imperium to expend time and energy maintaining the hellcamp, and striking elsewhere until Goons recoil and let go.
This actually is what Goons have done in reaction to PAPI’s aggressive presence at their gates. They are under considerable pressure at Delve and they aim to release some of that pressure by attacking the home regions of PAPI members. PAPI members like BRAVE recoil as Goons attack them in a soft spot rather than straining, out-leveraged, at the point of the lock. This was good strategy on the part of the Imperium, and something PAPI has started to do more after their costly breakout incursions. PAPI ought to put off more breakout attempts for the meantime and fight in multiple locations (other than M2) using smaller ships, and to the degree that they are doing this they should double down. PAPI titans will be right where they left them. Also, recent success in Delve destruction shows you don’t always need titans to inflict damage. PAPI should never have let their loss at M2 prevent them from continuing to apply pressure to an outnumbered enemy. Only recently have they started rectifying this mistake.
Multi-pronged Attacks and Numerical Advantage
“It is the rule in war, if our forces are ten to the enemy’s one, to surround him; if five to one, to attack him; if twice as numerous, to divide our army into two.” –Sun Tzu
At the beginning of the war I was thrilled to hear that Pandemic forces were attacking Goons from the north while TEST and friends were attacking from the south. This seemed like a fine strategy to me. PAPI outnumbers the Imperium more than 2 to 1. If PAPI spreads its forces out it can always be where Goons aren’t, no matter how well Goons are fighting. If PAPI split its forces evenly in two (or more) locations simultaneously they could even kite whichever location Goons showed up to defend while attacking the other undefended location. Otherwise Goons are forced to defend two locations at half strength in both places. If their organization is bad, and they are unable to split their forces evenly, one location could end up unequally defended to the point of getting steamrolled.
I was concerned when PAPI later unified their forces, ending, to a large degree, the two-theater strategy that had been so successful before (even Goons were impressed with how effective PAPI forces were in Fountain). I didn’t see this as a better use of their numerical advantage. I wasn’t inside the room where that decision was made, so I can’t speak to the reasoning behind it. I can only speculate. Perhaps PAPI felt that organizing two forces at opposite ends was impractical and was creating problems of synchronization. Perhaps it was too difficult logistically to supply two forces far away from one another, a problem made worse after Goons’ forward-thinking attack on Niarja; PAPI may have felt they needed to consolidate their industry and assets to continue pressuring Delve.
Whatever the reason(s), the loss at M2 only entrenched me further in the belief that PAPI should diversify its attack locations and split Goons’ army. It has been shown that Goons are capable and willing to assemble massive forces before decisive battles begin, loading up their numbers and putting strain on CCP’s servers. Even with a numerical advantage, it appears unwise simply from the standpoint of server limitations to meet a unified Goon force with a unified PAPI force. One can only imagine how M2 might have been different if Goons had been forced to assemble half their 4,500 pilots somewhere else, forced to defend two (relatively) distant locations. It would not only have meant a split Goon defense force, potentially unevenly distributed or unequally distributed in relation to PAPI forces. It would also have meant halving the pressure on the server for each of the locations Goons had to defend.
A split PAPI attack force would also give PAPI members the ability to rest while their other PAPI members attacked, forcing Goons to dance around Delve, racing back and forth trying to put out fires where they pop up. True, this would make the war take longer than a perpetual assault. But this kind of slow and steady approach could address whatever truth there might be to the Imperium’s assertion that PAPI will be pooped out any day now and go home. Having two times as many soldiers potentially means you only have to work half as hard.
The Imperium’s strategy throughout the war has been sound. With terrible odds stacked against them they have been able to capitalize on PAPI mistakes and make meaningful assaults on the enemy when possible; their preparation for M2 deserves respect; their assault on PAPI members homes (like BRAVE’s) has released some of the pressure at their gates; their attack on Niarja was an impressive demonstration of tactical foresight and commitment.
I have tended to question PAPI’s strategy more, though not (as I know you are all thinking) simply due to the loss at M2. In fact, I consider M2 to be a symptom of a larger shift in strategy which consolidated PAPI forces rather than leaving them separated into a northern and southern theater. I believe that consolidation led to the congested debacle of M2, and a continued reliance on consolidation, I worry, will only lead to more congested debacles. The risk of server malfunctions is too great, too unpredictable. PAPI ought to use its numerical advantage to spread Goons as thin as possible with the added benefits of 1) lowering server strain, and 2) the ability to rest a portion of PAPI troops while others attack giving Goons no rest. This war is still PAPI’s to lose and PAPI still has the ability to split its forces instead of putting all its eggs in M2 baskets.