Sweep the Skies—Why Carriers Aren’t Capital Ships


Header art by Quendan Comari.

There’s a problem with carriers.

To copy-paste directly from Wikipedia, William S. Lind, in the book America Can Win (p. 90), defines a capital ship as follows: “These characteristics define a capital ship: if the capital ships are beaten, the navy is beaten. But if the rest of the navy is beaten, the capital ships can still operate. Another characteristic that defines capital ships is that their main opponent is each other.”

Both halves of the above definition hold perfectly true for dreadnoughts, faxes, supercarriers, and especially titans. It’s no accident that the Massacre in M2, the ensuing hellcamp and the ongoing operations in that system are all about the titans. The side that loses all its titans first, loses this war. The hundreds of dreadnoughts papi sacrificed to extract half of their trapped titans is a painful loss to them, too, but that’s the price of pulling their leg out of the bear trap. 

And sure enough, dreadnoughts’, supercarriers’ and titans’ natural enemies, by and large, are each other. But where do carriers fit in this? Do they even match the definition? 

Well…no. They don’t. Carriers are the red-headed stepchild of the capital lineup, at best.

For a start, light fighters just don’t do enough damage to kill capitals. One-on-one, if you put a carrier up against a fax, it won’t even come close to breaking the fax’s tank.  XL weapons, meanwhile, will sneer at a carrier’s EHP and local rep: put a carrier up against a dreadnought, and the dread pilot will thank you for the easy kill. And if a titan deigns to notice a carrier at all… 

Support fighters? Dromis are redundant against a ship with a top speed of 90m/s; Sirens are redundant against anything stuck in a bubble; a full flight of Cenobites is equivalent to one medium neut; and Scarabs are out-performed in every way by a T1 Blackbird, with the added insult that capitals all have sensor strengths so high that the odds of jamming them are basically “lol.” Support fighters are universally useless against capital ships.

All of which is to say that a carrier’s natural prey is subcaps, and they therefore fail to meet the second half of Lind’s definition.

But what about the first half?

There is one way in which carriers meaningfully engage capital ships: the space superiority fighter. And those are invaluable, there’s nothing better at killing fighters than SS fighters. You even get a killmail for killing fighters, so CCP at least agrees that killing fighters is important. You don’t get a killmark though, so they also think that killing a heavy fighter group isn’t as noteworthy as killing a basic T1 frigate three orders of magnitude less expensive. 

I can understand why. Fighters are a weapon system, frigates are a player. Gut-check anyone in the game on whether they’d rather get the final blow on a Condor, or the final blow on an Ametat II, and I suspect that most would prefer the Condor even though it is massively less valuable in terms of both ISK and DPS. You just beat an actual human being after all. Fighters are just a glorified drone.

But a supercarrier that loses all its fighters just lost all its DPS. It may still be useful for its ewar burst, command burst and cloning function, if fitted, but it has otherwise been declawed and is now unable to hunt its prey.

Not only that, but Imperium space superiority fighters have thwarted several outbreak attempts in M2-XFE just in the last week. The idea for this article came to me during the third such occasion, while sitting comfortably on Big’s High Ground with thousands of SS fighters orbiting the bubbles above me: their presence drove away the papi light fighters that were popping the bubbles. The bubble field is therefore intact, and the papi titans within it remain trapped. Objective achieved.

It certainly wasn’t the most gripping, high-octane combat ever. The first time, on the 27th of January, was much more interesting. I was on 32 killmails…all fighters. (EDIT: On the 3rd of February, after I submitted this article, we had two more such fights just to drive the point home.)

These battles may not have festooned my Nidhoggur in killmarks, but if we weren’t there doing that job, guess what? Titan breakout. And Mittens has made it pretty clear that we’re more interested in killing those titans, or making papi pay a heavy price to extract them, than in anything else the enemy is doing right now.

Carriers full of SS fighters (my affectionate nickname for them is “Flakswarm” as though it were an actual SIG) have now saved that strategic objective at least five times by my count. You’d think with all the above being said, that means carriers play an invaluable strategic role. But…no. 

Because supercarriers can launch SS fighters too. 

The core problem plaguing the humble Archon, Chimera, Nidhoggur and Thanatos is that they are basically redundant. Anything they can do, an Aeon, Wyvern, Hel or Nyx can do better, and the supers can do some extra stuff on top that keeps them somewhat useful and relevant even when their fighter reserves are depleted. And of course, if you can fly a carrier, you can fly a super. They use the exact same hull skills. So in a lot of cases, the carrier is just where those of us who are currently too poor to afford our super hull bide our time and fantasize about being important. Carrier pilots move on to supers: super pilots sell their carriers.

All of which means that carriers also don’t fit the first half of Lind’s definition. If we lost every single carrier we have, the navy would not be suffering for it. If we lost every dreadnought we have, on the other hand…

TL;DR—Carriers are not invaluable to the navy, and their main opponent is not other capital ships. They do not meet either half of the definition of a capital ship.

That needs to change. 

So…what do?

The most fun starting point would be to start awarding killmarks for sweeping the skies of fighters. They can still be less valuable than a player kill, though. How about one mark per five fighter wings destroyed? That, after all, represents an entire supercarrier’s contingent of fighters in the air at once. Killing that much firepower ought to be recognized. 

But really, that’s just a silly vanity thing. What carriers need is a unique and valuable battlefield niche that they alone occupy.

My suggestion: make Space Superiority fighters exclusive to carriers. Supers can keep their heavies and long-range fighters, lights and supports can swing both ways, but only carriers can launch SS.

This change all by itself would create a unique and irreplaceable tactical role for the carrier. It would make them strategically necessary, not just a stepping stone that us space peons use while we save up for our first real capital ship. If you don’t bring carriers, then the enemy supers can do their thing basically uncontested. If you bring carriers and the enemy don’t, then their supers can only watch helplessly as their heavies are torn to pieces.

Suddenly, Flakswarm would be a real thing, not just my silly joke about a role we sometimes assume. Controlling the skies and providing a fighter escort for our supercarriers’ heavies would be our primary and necessary function, with the option of switching to anti-subcap when appropriate.

But why stop there? Let’s dream a little bigger, see if we can expand the carrier’s role even more and turn them into a ship that FCs really want to have around, and players want to fly.

Well, why not take away the supers’ command bursts too? In fact, take them from the faxes and titans while we’re at it! Do that, and boost carriers suddenly become an important accent in a capital formation, in much the same way as you’ll find Storks and Bifrosts at the heart of our HAC fleets, providing boosts and protecting them from bombs via their defender missiles.

Crazy talk?

I feel I should apologize to SOPHIA ‘ALIZABETH’ S at this point, for daring to suggest any harm to her beloved supercarriers. But neither of these are ground-breaking changes, nor would they render supers (or faxes, or titans) obsolete if implemented. 

It’s tempting when trying to think of ways to make EVE better to propose exotic new modules, or unique abilities that add a whole new mechanic to the game. Personally, I favour a “less is more” approach. If you can, through a modest reshuffle of situationally useful abilities, greatly improve the value of one class of ship without significantly damaging another, that’s enough.

Carriers could—and, I submit, should—be to capital fleets what a command destroyer is to a subcap fleet. Wanted. Useful. Protective and supportive. Sniped first, probably.

But you know what? That’s okay. I’d much rather be important enough to get doomsdayed than ignored as irrelevant, which is where carriers are at right now.

It’s time to show them some love.

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  • Guilford Australis

    Carriers absolutely do have a unique role. Their fighter control range is limited only by their targeting range, which for the Nidhoggur is nearly 4,000 km. The targeting range of a Naglfar is 92.5 km, and 250 km for an Avatar.

    My suspicion is that some of the angst here stems from the odd way that carriers have been used throughout EVE’s history – which is more of a meta issue than a design issue. Carriers are the only platform in the game that can apply damage at an extraordinary range while sitting right on top of a citadel.

    Pointing out that supercarriers function in similar ways ignores the fact that they cost many times more than carriers and can only dock in Keepstars. My current Capswarm Nidhoggur cost 2.5B fully fit. My Nyx cost 25B and has to be parked in a Keepstar. Carriers have advantages over supers beyond merely their overlap in function.

    February 7, 2021 at 10:53 AM
  • Rammel Kas

    I see you’ve done exactly what others of us tried to use to argue ship roles out of a historical context. CCP Devs do not take much beyond the naming conventions from the real world. Using that to argue sense into people who haven’t bothered to get as well versed in the history of the past 400 years beyond the popular memes and tropes doesn’t really do anything. Just so that you’re aware of this… they don’t even consider that.

    February 7, 2021 at 11:37 AM
    • Guilford Australis Rammel Kas

      The small mercy here is that it at least wasn’t a WWII comparison or a Sun Tzu quote. Those seem to be the coin of the realm among EVE writers.

      February 7, 2021 at 11:47 AM
      • Nothing is worse then hearing someone explain something silly using completely unnecessary (or unrelated) quotes and historical references just to seem more educated. Call me weird but I don’t like listening to people metaphorically jerk off in public when talking about things they don’t fully understand. If I wanted that I’d watch OANN. Nobody likes armchair “experts”.

        February 8, 2021 at 7:29 AM
        • Follow this attitude to its natural conclusion, and nobody would ever get any thinking done because we’d all have to start by reinventing Aristotle.

          Quoting and riffing on what other people have said and written is an ordinary and necessary part of discourse.

          February 8, 2021 at 2:51 PM
          • Guilford Australis HamboneHFY

            Now Google “false analogy fallacy” and reflect on the point of the comment you responded to.

            February 8, 2021 at 2:56 PM
          • Carvj94 HamboneHFY

            Except that in a vast majority of arguments history is completely irrelevant. Just like the author’s.

            February 8, 2021 at 3:09 PM
          • I don’t think it’s irrelevant in this case, though. “Here’s a pattern all the other EVE capitals follow, why doesn’t the carrier?” That’s the argument. The historical quote is just framing. You’re saying the painting is bad because you don’t like the frame.

            February 8, 2021 at 4:24 PM
    • Carvj94 Rammel Kas

      The worst part is that this is such a nitpicky thing to talk about instead of low hanging fruit like frigates being the smallest ship class rather than destroyers. But yea why write an entire article about carriers in EVE not being a historically accurate when the game takes place after the rise and fall and rise of humanity in a different galaxy tens of thousands of years into the future. Obviously real life classifications for marine vessels in the 19th and 20th century don’t apply to internet spaceships.

      February 8, 2021 at 7:23 AM
      • The article isn’t really about whether or not carriers match the real life definition of a capital ship, though, that’s just a framing device for the argument, which is that carriers need to be more than just a worse, cheaper supe.

        February 8, 2021 at 2:49 PM
  • Elthar Nox

    Flipping this one on its head…

    Maybe Carriers don’t have a place in the Titan > Dread > Super trio. Maybe their true role lies in supporting Battleships. We’ve known for a while BS just aren’t cutting their weight anymore, they are too slow and fall prey to HACs & Bombers.

    Now a Carriers main job irl is to assert air supremacy over a naval area of operations (NAO) in order to support additional tasks: historically BS combat, destroyers doing torpedo runs or naval landings.

    I’m all for combined arms fleets. Now if Carriers could a. Heavily boost battleships b. Protect them from bombing runs (defender missiles < defender fighters) and c. destroy enemy fighters…maybe that would be worthwhile!

    February 7, 2021 at 4:20 PM
  • Lets cut to the real core issue here: killmarks. How about CCP just develop a new killmark decal specific to the killing of fighters? Then you can have ship kills and fighter kills both proudly displayed on your hull? Problem solved.

    February 7, 2021 at 11:33 PM
  • Deni'z von Meanace

    I thought that carrier the only good for is run lvl 5… Sigh

    February 8, 2021 at 12:23 AM
  • Stay away from my supers. You’re just upset you couldn’t get into supertits.

    February 8, 2021 at 2:10 AM
  • George Ewing

    At the risk of setting off the CAN’T USE REAL WORLD ANALOGIES crowd gathered here, it’s always seemed strange to me that carriers (or super carriers for that matter – God help me now I’ve done it) don’t have fully integrated escort fleets that buff the capital’s overall force projection and protect it from other subcap fleets…..

    February 8, 2021 at 6:02 PM
    • Elthar Nox George Ewing

      Who are you that is so wise in ways of science?

      February 12, 2021 at 10:20 AM
  • Ambladier

    No matter what real life naval doctrine may say about it, in the fantasy world of eve, it’s a capital ship.

    February 10, 2021 at 8:54 PM
    • Ambladier Ambladier

      As soon as real life naval ships get jump drives and require capital ship skills however, we can take a look at this again.

      February 10, 2021 at 8:55 PM